SMOG side force Quins to dig deep

Harlequins Radich Law skipper Bridget Gane prepares to pass over the outstretched hands of SMOG HRC rival Katie Bradley ...

Harlequins Radich Law skipper Bridget Gane prepares to pass over the outstretched hands of SMOG HRC rival Katie Bradley at Marlborough Lines Stadium on Tuesday.

Harlequins Radich Law continue to lead the pack after the third round of Marlborough premier netball, but were forced to dig deep by a committed SMOG HR Construction team on Tuesday evening.

The reigning champs won the night's opening encounter at Marlborough Lines Stadium 51-49 after trailing by six at halftime. A dominant third quarter turned the tide for Quins, providing just enough breathing space to hold off a late challenge from SMOG.

Tokomaru Crafar Crouch Picton, beaten by Harlequins last week, quickly returned to form with a compelling 59-37 victory over the young Marlborough Girls' College NZ King Salmon side, a clinical first half display leaving the students too much to do at the back end of the game.

Harlequins' goal attack Lauren Murray lines up the hoop.

Harlequins' goal attack Lauren Murray lines up the hoop.

The final match of the evening may have the biggest long-term impact. In the battle of the cellar-dwellers, Pelorus Edridge Contracting slowly and steadily pulled away from SMOG Bayleys to win 46-32 and edge out of the relegation zone.  

Harlequins 51 SMOG HRC 49

 If Quins needed a reminder that they have a target on their back after last year's heroics and a fast start in 2017, they certainly got that.

Mikayla Avant of Harlequins delivers the ball down court.

Mikayla Avant of Harlequins delivers the ball down court.

An experienced, composed SMOG side took the game to the leaders from the outset, racing out to a 10-3 advantage midway through the first quarter. Quins limited the damage to a 9-14 deficit at the break, but were under the pump as SMOG shooters Cara Wiapo and Jess Rutherford combined to drop in 14 goals from 18 attempts.

Quins made early changes at both ends of the court, bringing Kimberley McCabe on at GS and Sarah Higgins at GD and they helped stem the bleeding, drawing level after five minutes, before SMOG pulled away again. With WD Kelly West adding impact in her first outing of the season, they won the quarter 14-13 to claim a six-goal lead at halftime.

It seemed only a matter of time before Quins clicked into gear and they found the right cog immediately after the break, going on a 8-2 run to move into a 30-29 lead after six minutes. Higgins and youngster Livvy Hodson clicked in defence, Bridget Gane and Jenna Gilbert began to find more midcourt space while Lauren Murray continued to mine the rich vein of scoring form she has found this season as Quins took out the quarter 15-6.

Down by three, SMOG dug deep, with defenders Tracey Moanaroa and Lucy Martin, plus wing attack Serena MacDougall, to the fore and worked their way back into the game. After nine minutes of the final stanza they had their nose in front again, 43-42, but a couple of untimely turnovers and missed shots conspired to leave them just short of a major upset.

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For the second consecutive week, Harlequins have had their resolve tested and have passed the examination, resulting in an exciting, high-calibre match. Given that SMOG traditionally improve as the season progresses, some more cliff-hangers may be in the offing.

Tokomaru 59 MGC 37

The Picton side set out their store early in this one, racing to a 10-goal lead after 15 minutes, then extending that to 15 goals by halftime.

Toko enjoyed almost double the possession that the students managed to get their hands on and, with GA Jess Prosser in superb shooting form, converted that into a winning advantage by the halftime break.

Tash Ford, Hana Wilson, Meighan Taylor and Laura Murphy shared the midcourt roles well, providing drive when required, plus energetic defence at times.  

The youthful defensive duo of Tristan Taylor and Alex Cambie continue to grow in stature, limiting the college's shooting ace Malia Manoa to just 18 attempts in the match.

Fortunately for MGC, Manoa's circle partner Isabella Rohloff stepped up, landing 22 of her 30 shots to offer a reliable alternative.

Ella Donald impressed at centre for MGC, Olivia Robinson offered promise at wing defence while goal keep Cerys James-Sitters showed she is finding her feet in this competition. The college side is a particularly youthful combination who will take time to gel. However they showed they are on the right track, especially in the final two quarters of the match when they clung closely to their higher-rated opponent.

Pelorus 46 SMOG Bayleys 32

With both sides facing the prospect of relegation this was always going to be a tense, tight encounter. Pelorus had more experience, SMOG the enthusiasm of youth.

In the end the spoils went to the more-seasoned netballers, who were able to build a lead in small increments throughout the match, winning three of the four quarters.

The early exchanges set the tone. Both sides created and conceded turnovers, goal scoring opportunities hard to find. Eventually Pelorus edged out to a five-goal lead, but SMOG responded to cut the margin to three at halftime. With the energetic Anna Archie and Tyla Bevan beginning to take control of midcourt, despite the sterling efforts of SMOG dynamo Georgia Reed and Julia Webby, Pelorus extended their advantage to seven after 45 minutes and 14 at the final whistle.

Circle attackers Louise Walker and Mandy Higgins both landed 23 goals for the ladies in dark blue, while defenders Riana Burger and Danielle Moffat did their best to deny the SMOG attackers time and space.

Ella Irvine shot well for SMOG, landing 19 goals from 25 attempts, and operated well in the circle with Naia Lawrence. Goal defence Billie Watson also had a strong game.

At a glance

Pelorus Edridge Contracting 46 (Mandy Higgins 23/29, Louise Walker 23/34) SMOG Bayleys 32 (Ella Irvine 19/25, Naia Lawrence 13/26). Quarter scores (winning team first): 13-8, 8-10, 11-7, 14-7.

Tokomaru Crafar Crouch Picton 59 (Holly Bonnington 12/26, Jess Prosser 47/52) Marlborough Girls' College NZ King Salmon 37 (Isabella Rohloff 22/30, Malia Manoa 15/18). Quarter scores: 17-7, 13-8, 14-11, 15-11.

Harlequins Radich Law 51 (Olivia Pinkerton 1/2, Kimberley McCabe 9/18, Lauren Murray 41/53) SMOG HR Construction 49 (Jess Rutherford 31/38, Cara Wiapo 18/26). Quarter scores: 9-14, 13-14, 15-6, 14-15.

Standings: Harlequins RL 9, Tokomaru 7, MGC 6, SMOG HRC 5, Pelorus 3, SMOG B 0.

 - Stuff

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