Southern Steel pin hopes on home advantage

BRENDON EGAN
Last updated 05:00 18/06/2012
Sheryl Scanlan
DOUG FIELD/Fairfax NZ

HOME ADVANTAGE: Steel player Sheryl Scanlan paints the face of 7-year-old Paige McKenzie at a fun day at the Velodrome on Sunday.

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Something has got to give in tonight's bottom-of-the-table trans-Tasman netball clash between the Southern Steel and Canterbury Tactix at the velodrome.

The South Island rivals have endured a difficult time of it this season, combining for just three wins between them, and both will be attempting to snap long losing streaks.

Steel have dropped their last seven games, after starting the season on a promising note – winning two of their opening three contests.

The Tactix have not had much to cheer about in 2012 either – losing their past eight games – with their only win of the season coming over two months ago against the New South Wales Swifts.

Apart from southern pride and an elusive win, there is still plenty to play for in tonight's game. The Steel and Tactix coaching staffs will already be casting an eye towards next season and working out which players deserve to be retained and which ones let go.

Steel co-coach Natalie Avellino said her side wanted to produce some positive netball over its final three games of the season and was targeting a strong performance on their home court.

"The excitement of playing at home is something the girls are really looking forward to. We want to win our last two home games. Invercargill is a great place for us to be playing. The support we get is amazing."

Steel were always going to find the going tough this season in what is very much a rebuilding year for the franchise, with two rookie co-coaches and nine new faces in their ranks.

They were competitive early on in the campaign, but have not been the same since a season-ending injury to starting wing attack Courtney Tairi last month, which has disrupted the balance of the team.

Former Silver Fern veteran Sheryl Scanlan and promising youngster Shannon Francois have also been sidelined in recent weeks, which has placed pressure on an already thin squad.

Francois has recovered from a rolled ankle against the Magic, two weeks ago, and will take her place in the midcourt tonight. Former Mystics defender Stephanie Bond is unavailable due to a calf strain, while Scanlan remains out with an ankle injury, but could return for next weekend's away game with the Swifts.

Ex-Silver Ferns captain Adine Wilson, who made a cameo appearance last week, will be at the game tonight, attending a Players' Association function, but is not expected to play.

Steel beat the Tactix 55-53 in a nailbiter when the teams last met in Christchurch, in April, and Avellino anticipated another fiercely fought encounter tonight.

The Tactix will be refreshed after coming off the bye weekend and have shown improvement over the back end of the competition, losing by just a goal to competition frontrunners, the Mystics, three weeks ago.

"They've pushed a lot of teams recently. We're certainly not taking them lightly," Avellino said.

"Their attack line has been a strength of theirs, and [English international] Stacey Francis had added a little bit more to their defensive line."

If Steel are to gain a win tonight, they will need to play consistent netball for four quarters – something they have been unable to do this season.

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They strung together an excellent first half effort against the Mystics last week, but were outclassed in the second 30 minutes of action, being outscored 36-21.

Avellino said they had been working hard on their defence at training this week, with the Mystics able to send the ball into the shooting end with far too much ease during the second half.

"We lacked a bit of intensity. We need to attack that ball a little bit more. It's probably been our big focus (this week).

"We have a couple of minutes in each quarter, which is just lapsing.

"We need to correct that."

In other games yesterday, the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic beat the Northern Mystics 48-46. Melbourne Vixens shooter Karyn Howarth landed a last-gasp goal to help her side beat the West Coast Fever 50-49, while the Adelaide Thunderbirds routed the New South Wales Swifts in Sydney 62-35.

- The Southland Times

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