Southern Steel gain plenty from Melbourne trip

Southern Steel will take plenty away from a gruelling pre-season tournament in Melbourne over the weekend.

The Ascot Park Hotel-sponsored side played seven games between Friday night and yesterday afternoon, with veteran Wendy Frew saying the court time had been invaluable.

"It's been a tough weekend, but a really good learning curve for us as a unit, some really good results and some games where we haven't been so consistent," Frew said.

"For us, we've got lots out of it. It's been fantastic to get everyone out on court and everyone is putting their hand up to make that starting seven for the first game."

Coach Janine Southby, who would have been pleased to get through the Summer Shootout without any serious squad injuries, said the focus was on challenging various combinations.

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 ANZ Championship 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 lineup, 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.

The Thunderbirds edged ahead early in the second spell, helped by the reliable Emily Beaton anchoring the centre court, but a reliable shooting effort from Te Paea Selby-Rickit in 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 the 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.

In their 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.

Yesterday 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 per cent accuracy. Swifts led 24-13 at halftime. A 36-24 loss to the Central Pulse marked the end of the tournament.

Steel open their campaign at the rebuilt Stadium Southland against the Queensland Firebirds on March 2.

The Southland Times