Steel keen to end difficult year as top-spot spoilers
Don't expect to see Australian Diamonds star Julie Corletto lining up in a Southern Steel dress next season.
The Melbourne Vixens defender has been linked with a move to New Zealand for 2013 to be closer to her husband, Breakers basketballer Daryl Corletto, who re-signed with the Auckland-based club for a further two years.
A quality goal defence is at the top of Steel's shopping list for the off-season, but it is unlikely to be Corletto, who is hotly tipped to sign with the Northern Mystics.
Steel co-coach Natalie Avellino said the franchise would jump at the chance to add Corletto to their ranks, but believed they were facing an uphill battle.
"If Julie wants to play in New Zealand, we'd love for her to play for us, but I think realistically she wants to be where her husband is.
"Our understanding is, with her husband being in Auckland, that's going to be her direction – moving to the Mystics. It'll be tough for the Vixens to lose her. I suppose players need to go where is right for them and their families."
Corletto has been one of the standout defenders in this year's trans-Tasman netball league and is one of the key reasons the Vixens have surprised their detractors to sit at the top of the ANZ Championship standings.
The 25-year-old is adept at either goal defence or wing defence and Steel will need to ensure they cherish possession or Corletto will have a field day, pulling in intercepts and effecting turnovers.
"She's just so athletic. She's an amazing player," Avellino said.
"Her athleticism allows for her to go for intercepts and get those balls some players wouldn't even dream of getting."
One of the Vixens' biggest strengths this season has been their defensive end, where Corletto, English international Geva Mentor, and Bianca Chatfield have posed plenty of problems for opposition attackers.
The battle between the Vixens' defence end and Steel's experienced shooting combination of Donna Wilkins and Jodi Brown should be one of the features of the game. If Steel are to have any chance of causing an upset, they will need both players to shoot at a high percentage.
Madison Browne has had a breakout campaign in the Vixens' midcourt and Steel will need to shut her down if they are to limit the flow of ball getting into the shooting circle.
Steel will no doubt look to place pressure on the Vixens' shooting end of Karyn Howarth and Tegan Caldwell, who are talented but prone to inconsistency.
Steel will bring down the curtain on a difficult 2012 season today – one in which the team have lost their past nine outings and won just two of their 12 games.
The Southland/Otago-based side have not tasted victory since April 15 and Avellino said the team were determined to produce a performance to be proud of and finish the season on a high.
"We know we're coming up against the No1 team at the moment, but we seem to match it quite well with the top teams."
The Ascot Park Hotel-sponsored Steel can play the role of spoilers against the Vixens, who are looking to hold on to top spot and secure hosting rights for the major semifinal next weekend.
Avellino said Steel's nine-game losing streak had been frustrating for everyone involved with the franchise, but said the players had remained upbeat and had not let it get them down.
"It's not nice losing if you're a player, coach or a supporter. You don't like losing.
"We've seen improvement in players and players develop. We would like for us, and them, to have a good game and win."
Today's game will mark the end of an era for Steel's former Silver Fern defender Sheryl Scanlan – who is retiring from elite netball.
Scanlan will be forced to watch, due to a ruptured tendon in her left foot, which requires surgery.
Steel: Jodi Brown (c), Donna Wilkins, Shannon Francois, Phillipa Finch, Hayley Saunders, Storm Purvis, Demelza McCloud, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Louise Thayer, Gina Crampton, Ashleigh Smith.
Vixens: Karyn Howarth, Tegan Caldwell, Madison Browne, Chelsey Tregear, Julie Corletto, Bianca Chatfield, Geva Mentor, Kate Beveridge, Sarah Wall, Micaela Wilson, Ash Howard.
- © Fairfax NZ News