IT will have been 436 days since Southern Steel last took to the court at ILT Stadium Southland and netball fans and the players can’t wait to be back home.
The team will have its first game since last year in Invercargill tomorrow, when it takes on the Northern Mystics followed by Central Pulse on Saturday.
The first home game of the season was played on March 16 at the Edgar Centre in Dunedin. A few hours before the game started, the Government announced no gatherings of more than 500 people due to Covid-19 and the fans were kept away.
After the ANZ premiership resumed in June, Ascot Park Southern Steel has played all its games in Auckland apart from Monday’s when it took to the court against the Magic in Hamilton.
For injured Steel shooter Jennifer O’Connell, the return to the team’s Invercargill home territory means the world.
“It’s just as important to us as it is to the fans,” she said this week.
“I’m gutted I won’t be able to be out there with the girls.
“It’s massive for Invercargill.”
Out with an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury, O’Connell took the time on Monday night to watch the Steel game against Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic on the big screen with fans at Ascot Park Hotel.
For Steel supporter Pam Cooper the fact she could see her favourite team live was a big bonus.
“It’s always nice to see the home games
“It definitely gives them an advantage,” she said.
Fellow fan Dianne Kemp knows how important a stadium full of rowdy supporters could be for the team.
“I think they miss their home crowd.”
After the game on Monday night, Te Huinga Reo Selby Rickett told a television interviewer she couldn’t wait to be back on home ground.
“We’ve been counting down the minutes,” she said.
Steel could really do with a home advantage this week, sitting second bottom on the ANZ premiership table with 15 points with Pulse at the top on 41 points and Mystics third on 29.
A string of injuries in the shooting circle, with Georgia Heffernan and O’Connell both out with ACL injuries and Kalifa McColin spraining her ankle, had left the team calling on some seasoned as well as up-and-coming shooters.
Ellen Halpenny and Kiana Pelassio have been called in as permanent replacement players and shooters Gemma Etheredge (Hazeldine), Grace Namana and Kate Hartley were on stand-by.
O’Connell said the past few weeks had been difficult but she had received nothing but support from her fellow players and management.
“I’m very fortunate to be part of the Steel environment.”
Herself and Heffernan were booked to have their ACL operations on the same day in Christchurch.
Steel event manager Sonya Flemming said tickets were still available for both home games.