Steel skipper calls on team-mates to lift game

LIFTED NEEDED: Steel defender Storm Purvis (right) battles shoulder to shoulder with Pulse shooter Caitlin Thwaites for possession in Dunedin.
LIFTED NEEDED: Steel defender Storm Purvis (right) battles shoulder to shoulder with Pulse shooter Caitlin Thwaites for possession in Dunedin.

Frustrated Southern Steel skipper Jodi Brown says her team can't keep blaming inexperience for their costly lapses and is calling on her team-mates to lift their intensity for Monday's away game against Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic.

Steel slumped to a franchise-record fifth-straight loss on Monday night when they were beaten 58-50 by former coach Robyn Broughton's Central Pulse outfit in Dunedin.

The southerners started their season well, winning two of their opening three games and pushing many of the competition frontrunners, before suffering narrow losses.

Steel would have circled the Pulse home clash as a winnable game before the start of the season, but they saved one of their worst performances for them.

Once again they made a slow start but fought back after halftime, trimming the Pulse lead to a single goal. When the pressure went on, Pulse kept their composure and made the big plays to ease away from Steel during the final quarter.

With nine new faces in their squad this season and several ANZ Championship greenhorns, the 2012 season was always going to be a difficult one for the rebuilding Steel franchise.

On Monday night, Steel had three players in their starting seven aged 21 or under, but Brown said they could not keep using that as an excuse and admitted they needed to stand up collectively and take responsibility for their actions.

"We can't keep saying that every week, and that's a trap we get caught into. We say `It's fine, they're young'. At some point in time, they need to learn how to step up ... We're just really inconsistent. We have a core group that bring it every week, but we need the rest of them to step up."

Brown said there was a lot of frustration in the Steel dressing room after their fifth straight loss and she acknowledged the team did not play to their own expectations. They were plagued by sloppy turnovers and did not show enough pressure with their through-court defence.

"We're disappointed. I don't think we played well. Our performance wasn't that great," a candid Brown said. "We need to address this game and put it on the back burner. We need to really have people step up and make sure they want to be on court."

Steel's coaching staff sprang a major surprise to open the game, opting to hand young shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit just her second start at ANZ Championship level, with Brown switching to an unfamiliar role at wing attack.

Brown last played in the midcourt in a top-level game for the Silver Ferns at the 2003 world championships but has been used there at training and in preseason.

It was a baffling move by Steel, considering the great partnership and understanding between Brown and former Silver Ferns team-mate Donna Wilkins. When the duo were reunited at the start of the third quarter, it was no surprise Steel started to play much more effective netball and operate with greater movement and precision in the attacking end.

Steel co-coach Janine Southby defended the positional switch and said their hand had been forced with first-choice wing attack Courtney Tairi ruled out for the rest of the ANZ Championship with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee.

"It is a bit of a curve ball. We're looking at our options, now that we are down to three middies, and where do we actually need to make the difference.

"I don't think it was the winning and losing of the game. We didn't quite have the punch we needed. It was silly errors at crucial times that were killing us and that was right through the game."

Southby said the team would go back to the drawing board this week as they try to rediscover the type of the netball they showed in the early part of the season.

The Ascot Park Hotel-sponsored Steel need to play at a high level for the full 60 minutes and could not rely on other players in the side to make something happen.

"You can't do that at this level. They've got to do it for themselves," Southby said.

The bad news for Steel fans is things do not get any easier, with away games against the Magic and Mystics during the next fortnight.

The Southland Times