The Central Pulse have claimed netball‘s minor premiership with a 66-48 win over the Northern Stars in Papakura.
The win gives the Pulse the home court advantage in the grand final.
Both teams were desperate to bounce back from losses on Sunday, and the bottom-of-the-table Stars put up a valiant attempt to quash the Pulse throughout the first half.
But the visiting side wanted to cement their place in the grand final, and did so by lifting the intensity in the second half – and almost doubling the score they managed in their day‘s previous loss to the Tactix.
Shooter Ameliaranne Ekenasio – making her first starting appearance, and first full game, since the opening round – was MVP with an impressive 29 goals from 35 attempts.
The Stars delighted their home crowd by taking a three-goal lead halfway through the opening quarter.
Confident and competent shooting from Maia Wilson, superbly fed by Ellen Halpenny in her 100th appearance, put the Stars in the driving seat.
But a run of three goals just before the break flattered the Pulse, giving them the lead 16-14 as the teams returned to the bench.
The Pulse shooters were also in sharp form – Aliyah Dunn missing only one shot in the first half, backed up and set up well by Ekenasio. Soon the gap was out to four.
But a crucial intercept, followed by a stunning tip, both from goal defence Ama Agbeze helped the Stars to get back into the reckoning, closing to two.
It was pressure that the Stars couldn‘t continue to maintain, and as they made unnecessary handling mistakes, the Pulse gathered momentum and movement through court, to be up 34-28 at halftime.
Although Stars goal keep Kate Burley, one of the defensive discoveries of the 2018 competition, and wing defence Holly Fowler kept winning vital ball for their side, the Pulse only carried on building their lead.
Claire Kersten and Whitney Souness established their dominance in the midcourt for the Pulse, driving the ball through court with speed and accuracy, to deftly supply their shooters, and ended the third quarter 10 goals ahead, 49-39.
Captain Katrina Grant and Sulu Fitzpatrick stepped up their defensive pressure in the final phase, and the Stars struggled to thread the ball through court to their shooters.
The news got worse for the Stars when Agbeze left the court with a knee injury in the final moments. But Wilson‘s shooting stats of 38 from 43 (88 percent) gave them something to smile about.
The Southern Steel are guaranteed a place in the play-offs with the tactix and magic battling for the third and final spot.