A gruelling weekend tournament in Melbourne has proved solid preparation for the Southern Steel just two weeks from launching their 2014 campaign.
All 10 trans-Tasman franchises were put through their paces at the Summer Shootout, racking up valuable court-time before the season proper starts on March 1.
Playing seven games in just 42 hours certainly tested the depth of the Ascot Park Hotel-sponsored Steel squad.
Coach Janine Southby said the focus was on challenging various combinations.
"It was a great opportunity for everyone to get out on court and to try different options," she said.
"With just two weeks until our opening game against the Firebirds, this tournament was crucial in terms of identifying any areas for improvement and where we need to really focus our energies."
Influential playmaker Jodi Brown, who is recovering from a calf injury, played a limited role at the tournament as a precautionary measure. However, this opened the door for Olivia Bates to debut in the Steel dress, with the Otago shooter putting in some admirable performances on the international stage.
Notching up a 31-25 victory against the West Coast Fever in a friendly encounter on Friday night, the Steel opened the official tournament with a morale boosting 25-24 win over reigning premiers the Adelaide Thunderbirds.
Southby used the match to give the bulk of her players a run, making five changes at halftime. Thunderbirds coach Jane Woodlands-Thompson put faith in her starting line-up, making just one change at the break, injecting Samantha Poolman into the goal keeper position.
Steel started strongly notching up a 5-1 lead, however a run of goals midway through the opening stanza by the Thunderbirds closed the gap, the Steel taking a 12-11 lead into halftime.
Thunderbirds edged ahead early in the second spell helped by the reliable Emily Beaton anchoring the centre court but a strong shooting effort from Te Paea Selby-Rickit, sinking 13 goals from 17 attempts, kept the Steel in touch, edging ahead in the final minutes of the match.
Steel then lost 34-26 to the Mystics. Down 17-12 at halftime, the Steel's young defenders Phoenix Karaka and Storm Purvis had their hands full nullifying in-form Mystics duo of Cathrine Latu and Maria Tutaia.
In game three, the Steel suffered a 27-18 loss to an unbeaten Melbourne Vixens.
Trailling 11-8 at halftime, Southby injected Fowler-Reid into the circle with the Jamaican international impressing against the formidable Geva Mentor to sink nine of her 11 attempts.
In its final hit-out of the day, Steel clawed back an eight goal deficit to pull off an unlikely 30-29 win over the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic, with Te Paea Selby-Rickit slotting the winning shot after the final whistle.
Despite being 22cm taller than her opponent, Fowler-Reid was prevented clean ball with some clever play by defenders Bessie Manu and Leana de Bruin. With the timing and flow disrupted, the bulk of the workload fell to goal attack Selby-Rickit, who did more than her fair share of shooting from the outer edge of the circle.
Trailing 17-12 at halftime, the Steel injected some fresh legs into the match with a new defensive pairing of Purvis and Karaka, along with Gina Crampton in the wing attack position. The score line started to close as the Steel found their rhythm, Fowler-Reid sinking five unanswered goals to draw close. A stunning aerial intercept from up and coming netball star Karaka and the Steel came to within striking distance.
Tied at 29-all with time up on the clock, a penalty shot from Selby-Rickit 3m from the goal sealed the win for the Steel 30-29.
Sunday started on the wrong note for the Southerners, going down 42-24 against a dominant NSW Swifts outfit.
Unbeaten throughout the tournament, the Swifts recorded the highest score with shooter Caitlin Thwaites spearheading the attack with 100 percent accuracy. Swifts led 24-13 at halftime.
A 36-24 loss to the Central Pulse marked the end of the tournament.
- The Southland Times