In this week’s column, Tamsin Greenway previews Sunday’s ANZ Premiership Grand Final, which sees defending champions Central Pulse take on the Tactix, live on Sky Sports.
Pulse were touted as the team to beat prior to this season and they have lived up to the billing, losing just two games as they bid to retain their title, which they claimed last year with victory over Northern Stars.
They will also be aiming to provide their head coach Yvette McCausland-Durie with the perfect send-off, as she departs the franchise after a successful four years in charge.
The Tactix are appearing in their first Grand Final and will take encouragement from defeating Pulse 39-32 in the most recent outing between the sides, although last year’s winners were under-strength and had claimed the spoils in the previous two matches.
As we look ahead to what promises to be a fascinating finale to the ANZ Premiership season, Tamsin Greenway gives her verdict, analyses where the game could be won and lost and explores the key battles which will develop during Sunday’s showpiece…
Tactix deserving finalists
I thought and probably more hoped it would be Mystics in the final against Pulse. I have been quite clear about Mystics being my team, just because of the way they play. They are so exciting and I was really hoping they would be in there.
However, lots of the experts, particularly the Kiwi experts before the start of the season, told us Tactix were going to be up there and they have got better and better as the season has gone on.
I think players like (Te Paea) Selby-Rickit, the partnership between (Jane) Watson and (Temalisi) Fakahokotau has grown and they have deservedly gained their place in the final against probably the team everyone said was the team to beat, Pulse.
Pulse the team to beat
You cannot go past their line-up with (Katrina) Rore, with (Karin) Burger, with (Ameliaranne) Ekenasio, but I think the key is the Silver Ferns they have got. They have probably got the two best, other than Laura Langman, who is playing out in Australia.
If you look at that World Cup team and who has retired, they are the two best out there, so you have got the two best Silver Ferns out there at the moment who are playing in attack and defence, but it is the way they’ve built the others around them as well and the partnerships that have grown.
I think that has been quite key. Rore and Burger on the serve line have just become such a force to get past so they have just brought out the best in everybody else.
Burger and Rore could be key
I think Karin Burger has got a huge role to play. Rore is going to have her work cut out anyway because she has got to play against Selby-Rickit, and I’ve been saying all along, to beat Pulse, you have to take out Rore and Ekenasio.
Tactix have got the players to do that. Jane Watson and then Selby-Rickit, so I think Rore will have a job to do. What I think has been really interesting, we have all watched Burger’s progression so we saw in that first international ever where she got sent off, she was a bit of a live wire and she’s learned to control it under Noeline (Taurua).
She has used all that pace and aggression to her advantage and I think this is the first season I have watched her consistently nail it every single week.
She is still a young upcoming player and even the way she talks about herself, but I think it is frightening for the international scene to see how far she has come in such a short period of time and how she has built that partnership with Rore.
Where could the game be won and lost?
I think if you want to beat Pulse they are the key areas you have got to target, but I also think you can start to isolate some players as well.
Somebody like Kelly Jury, it’s all about her match-up against Ellie Bird, and that will depend on how good Rore and Burger are out on the front or vice versa, can (Kimiora) Poi and (Erikana) Pedersen break through that?
I think it’s just going to be who tips over the edge. I think that is where Tactix are going to struggle, that end third, getting it past that third line with Rore and Burger.
If they can effectively start feeding Bird, Rore has to drop, because Jury on her own is not as effective as when she is working in a partnership, so it is who has coached that, who has had the most amount of time.
It is also about who can perform on the day. It is fine just saying Selby-Rickit needs to get the better of Rore, but to be ground down like that for 48 minutes is huge, so it is whether she can keep her composure and her control.
Down the other end, I think Fakahokotau and Watson have become formidable. You have got young Maddy Gordon out on the wing. She is somebody I would be targeting.
I’d be going if I can’t stop (Aliyah) Dunn and Ekenasio and I know I have got the match-up of them, I would be going ‘right, let me target Maddy Gordon’.
Stop her feeding, keep her off the edge, put her under huge amounts of pressure so players like Ekenasio and Dunn have to start in the circle.
It comes down to the same point – attack wins you games, defence wins you championships and Watson and Fakahokotau – that partnership has just got better and better.
Watson is world class at goalkeeper. You have to remember what she did at the World Cup and how she’s performed for the Silver Ferns so then to put her out at goal defence, there are not many players who can perform equally in both positions and she has absolutely nailed it.
She has still got some flaws in terms of her offloads and bringing the ball through the court, but how she reads the game, how she partners with her at the back, how she goes from shutting down goal attacks to coming through and flying for the ball, she is just incredible.
I have been really really impressed with her and actually, to see that partnership grow, Noeline Taurua has got to be so excited about it.
Central Pulse: Aliyah Dunn, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Claire Kersten, Elle Temu, Karin Burger, Katrina Rore, Kelly Jury, Maddy Gordon, Renee Savai’inaea and Tiana Metuarau.
Mainland Tactix: Ellie Bird, Charlotte Elley, Temalisi Fakahokotau, Sophia Fenwick, Samon Nathan, Erikana Pedersen, Kimiora Poi, Jess Prosser, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Jane Watson.