McCloud: Steel need to foster culture of winning
When Southern Steel finally gain the winning bug, experienced defender Demelza McCloud reckons, it will be contagious.
Against the Canterbury Tactix on Monday night, Steel slumped to their eighth straight trans-Tasman netball league loss, blowing a four-goal, fourth-quarter advantage to be edged out 62-61.
There were some devastated looks on the faces of the Steel players at fulltime, as they reflected on a game that never should have slipped from their grasp.
Steel have struggled holding on to a lead at various stages during the season and, as the Tactix began to rally and gain some momentum late in the game, Steel panicked.
They went away from what they had been doing well for the first three quarters, becoming hesitant on attack, with sloppy turnovers creeping into the game and their defensive intensity dropping off.
Former Australian international McCloud, who has never encountered so many consecutive losses during her long netball career, said Monday night's loss was difficult to stomach.
She said Steel simply did not know how to close out a tight game when they were in the lead, and believed they had forgotten how to win.
"We need [to develop] that culture of winning.
"When the girls start feeling it and loving it, they'll keep driving for it. It's around the corner.
"We have to stand up for ourselves. At times, we get beaten up. In the crucial moments, we made crucial turnovers and got outmuscled by a very aggressive Tactix unit."
McCloud said Steel went away from their game plan in the fourth quarter and started to defend their lead, rather than trying to keep the goals ticking over.
"I think we just stopped. It was a case of nobody wanting to stuff it up. When you play the attacking style of netball we do, and we play with the flair we do, we have to keep going forward.
"It's not the natural style of our game to start playing short and slowly.
"We have to keep letting the ball go, and we didn't. In defence, we didn't take any risks to try and score [the ball] back."
This year was always going to be tough for a Steel team that started afresh with nine new players in its ranks and two rookie co-coaches. Steel lack the star power of many of the other sides in the competition and were not helped by a season-ending knee injury to starting wing attack Courtney Tairi, which has disrupted the balance of their midcourt.
Starting players Shannon Francois and Sheryl Scanlan have also been sidelined in recent weeks, which has placed pressure on an already weak squad.
McCloud said the Steel team set high standards and were disappointed by their inability to play four quarters of consistent netball this season.
"The girls have immense pride and our colours are really important to us. We know we're letting people down.
"We've got two regions of really proud netball fans behind us and we don't want to let them down. We've got to leave the past behind us."
If there was one positive to come out of the Tactix loss, it was the effort of the Steel youngsters, who impressed.
Hayley Saunders had her best game of the season, pulling in three intercepts and three deflections, until she was surprisingly taken off midway through the third quarter. And 19-year-old Storm Purvis was solid again at goal keep, and is someone Steel can build their defensive end around.
"[The youngsters] are learning from every little trick that happens on court. They go back and see [their mistakes] on video," McCloud said.
"I'm really proud of some of the young girls. They had the most constructive things to say [about the loss]. The coaches said `We have the systems, structures and game plan in place and we have the squad to do this. [Our performance] wasn't good enough."
The problem for Steel is things do not get any easier with an away game against the New South Wales Swifts in Sydney awaiting them on Sunday. After 12 attempts, Steel are yet to win on Australian soil.
The Southland-Otago based team concludes its season against the Melbourne Vixens in Invercargill on June 30.
- The Southland Times