Clash still on despite gaps
It is finals time in Nelson Netball's premier grade but as the top two teams go head-to-head in the major semi, they will do so without four of their top players leaving one side particularly vulnerable.
Top qualifiers Jacks OPD Richmond play Richmond Robbie's Bar and Bistro tomorrow night at 7pm at Saxton Stadium but Jacks star centre Jodi Hikuroa will join three Richmond players to the Nelson Sparks women's basketball team in Dunedin this weekend for the final round of their national league competition.
Jacks captain Hikuroa is a very important cog in the unbeaten Jacks wheel but for Richmond the damage to their title hopes is dire.
Richmond not only loses their centre Lisa Book and top defender Kat Jones, they lose possibly the form player of the competition, goal attack Nicki Rampton.
For Waimea College Senior A and Stoke NBS the scenario looks a little brighter. The third and fourth-placed teams play off in an elimination final on court two at 6pm, the winner going on to play the loser of the major semi in the minor semi on Saturday.
And the triumphant team will be buoyed as the basketball girls will still be in Dunedin when the final elimination match is played.
Jacks and Richmond have been consistently the top two teams this year and last week Richmond, who are peaking at the right end of the season, held Jacks to a 54-all draw. But the outlook is bleak for Richmond without three of their top players.
Kathleen Thornalley, Richmond's captain said that the game should have been deferred. "It's really disappointing. The three girls we have lost are irreplaceable.
"We are still going to go out there and give it everything but we are the top two teams and if we weren't to make the final, I believe Jacks will take it by 15-20 points."
Thornalley said she had gone down all the right channels to have the match moved to allow the teams to field their top sides but the request had been knocked back.
"We applied two months ago to have the game deferred under the exceptional circumstances clause and we were declined."
The Nelson Netball rules say if two players are due to miss a match because of a Nelson Netball representative clash the game would be automatically deferred.
Nelson Netball spokeswoman Leanne Russ said the request to have the game deferred went to the Nelson Netball board and while she was sympathetic to Richmond's circumstances she confirmed the board had voted to decline the request.
"If we made allowances for every other sport in the region, we would never have a game of netball.
"We do have a small core of top talent in Nelson and sometimes these clashes are unavoidable. They are regretted but they are unavoidable."
Without the height of Nicki Rampton in the circle Richmond will struggle to get past a Jacks team that has the talent and class to absorb a loss like Hikuroa's without getting off balance.
Utility Moana Forbes and goal shoot Ani-Marie Waitai are natural leaders on court and they will get plenty of support from the likes of goal attack Leanne Cook and defender Louise Monge-Grassi.
For Richmond, who play with close to the same seven each week, the trio of talent are as Thornalley said "irreplaceable", and as such they will struggle to keep pace with Jacks in their major final.
For Waimea and Stoke the carrot of an easy entry into the finals is dangling in front of them, and it is possible they may think that a win tomorrow night is all they need. However, these teams best not get too far ahead of themselves as their knockout match will be just that.
These teams have played out some thrillers in 2012 and finally it will come down to a winner-takes-all battle. Waimea have had the better of Stoke with a 3-1 record counting the Tasman Trophy, but Stoke are certainly capable of winning this encounter. It may come down to who wants it more on the night.
- © Fairfax NZ News