Southern Steel get taste of winning feeling
If the Southern Steel can keep the core of their players together, then the playoffs should be a minimum requirement in 2015.
Over the last month of the trans-Tasman league, the Steel proved they are a team not only capable of running with the best in the competition, but also doing it over consecutive weeks.
The other thing that happened this season was the development of a spine of players good enough to support the world-class talents of Jhaniele Fowler-Reid.
With the towering Jamaican already locked in for next season, the Steel's focus will be on retaining rather than recruiting.
"The hard work starts now really," Steel coach Janine Southby, who is herself yet to commit for 2015, said.
"You want to be able to say that we've got everyone back next year, so we can keep lifting and going forward next year."
Storm Purvis, Phoenix Karaka and Shannon Francois may attract offers from other franchises, who are not allowed to approach any Steel players until 48 hours after the grand final.
Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Erena Mikaere might also be vulnerable if offered more court time with another team.
If the Steel do go into the player market - and they would not be doing their job if they did not - their shopping list might include another defender and another midcourter.
Could the Steel have a go at getting Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit back from the Pulse, especially if Robyn Broughton decides to retire?
Is there a centre available in New Zealand who offers more than Phillipa Finch and would be willing to move? Laura Langman, perhaps?
There is enough evidence to suggest the Steel made significant progress this season.
Their pre-season was affected by the absence of Silver Ferns players and Fowler-Reid, and they made a slow start to the campaign, losing their first three games.
By the time they had lost five of their first seven, their semifinal aspirations were all but over.
Five wins from their final six games has provided the franchise with plenty of confidence in the future.
One more win could well have qualified them for the four-team playoffs.
The Steel banked their first win in Australia, against the defending champions in Adelaide no less, and beat a Vixens team that could well go on to win this year's title.
"We ticked off that winning in Australia earlier in the season and that's something that has been on our backs," Southby said.
"We still know we've got a lot to give and a lot to do, but I think there's some really positive signs there."
If proposed changes are brought in for next season, some of the Steel's work will be done for them.
A conference-style competition would have the top three teams from New Zealand and Australia included in an extended six-team playoff series.
With no sign that the struggling Tactix will suddenly develop into a consistent force, that would leave four New Zealand teams vying for three places.
The Southland Times