Steely finish needed to make netball semis

Last updated 05:00 19/04/2014

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Southern Steel are hoping a strong finish to the season will mean a brighter light is cast on the end-of-year review.

At the halfway point of the season and with six games remaining, Steel have only a mathematical chance of making the semifinals, with a playoff drought that now stretches back to 2010 - which is also the last time a team managed to make it to the semifinals with five losses.

Coach Janine Southby took Steel to ninth place in 2012 along with co-coach Natalie Avellino, and sixth last year after she took over the reins by herself when Avellino was cut midseason.

The Ascot Park Hotel-sponsored team sits ninth this season, with two wins from seven starts.

One year contracts are common in the trans-Tasman league and Southby's contract will end at the end of this campaign.

As for the players, Steel can begin negotiations with their own roster at any stage, but aren't allowed to approach any other franchise's players, under normal circumstances, until 24 hours after the grand final.

Discussions with the current crop of Steel players have yet to begin, although the Steel's key asset, Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, has one year left on her contract.

If Steel were to push for a place in the top half of the competition, there would be good cause to continue with the status quo.

However, if Steel are jousting to avoid the wooden spoon as the season progresses, questions should be asked about whether Southby is getting the best out of a roster that has plenty of young talent and a world-class shooter in Fowler-Reid.

Steel chief executive Sue Clarke said there could still be plenty to come this season.

"We've still got a chance to make the playoffs, [but] we've got a very tough road to do that. They've had some pretty good achievements - getting that first win on Australian soil and having two wins against Australian teams.

"However, they just haven't managed to grunt it out in that final quarter, which has been frustrating. They like challenges and they've got a got a large one in front of them - to win every game in the home straight."

Crowds in Invercargill and Dunedin this season are "slightly below" budgeted figures, but Clarke is hopeful those numbers will be boosted by some big crowds for the three remaining home games against the Magic (Invercargill), Tactix (Dunedin) and Vixens (Invercargill).

An early start to the season to accommodate the Commonwealth Games and the timing of games had been a contributing factor, Clarke said.

All franchises want as many Saturday home games as they can get - Steel have two this season, the Fever game in Dunedin and the final round-robin game against the Vixens in Invercargill.

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Before Steel get to their three-game home run, there is a difficult road trip taking in a tricky fixture against the Tactix in Christchurch on Monday night, followed by the long drag to Canberra to take on the NSW Swifts on Friday as part of Australia's Anzac commemorations.

The ultra-tight turnaround will mean Steel will stay in Christchurch for a recovery day on Tuesday, before flying from there to Canberra on Wednesday.

When the demanding draw was first released, Steel sought to get a bye round after coming home from Canberra.

It proved impossible to get any concessions out of tournament organisers, and instead Steel will host the Magic.

- The Southland Times

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