The experienced head of shooter Jennifer O’Connell sparked the Southern Blast to come from behind and net their first win of the 2019 Beko Netball League.
O’Connell, who was on loan from the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel, played an integral part as the newly-named Blast beat the Northern Marvels 61-57 at The Trusts Arena in Auckland on Saturday.
The two-time defending champion Central Manawa team also opened their campaign with a convincing 60-40 victory over the Northern Comets in Otaki, while Hellers Mainland and Waikato-BOP go head-to-head on Sunday.
It was a familiar winning combination for the Blast in their four-goal win, with coach Lauren Piebenga and O’Connell both part of the team which won the inaugural Beko crown in 2016.
Captain Laura Overton said the inclusion of the ANZ Premiership players had been a timely boost for some of the younger squad members.
“That experience that they bring to the team, it lifts the younger players which you could see,” she said.
Piebenga also called on Kendall McMinn, who is part of the Steel, while Southern’s Taneisha Fifita and Georgia Heffernan have also had plenty of court time in the opening round of the ANZ Premiership.
But it took all seven players on court to step up as they were forced to come from eight goals down at the main break before gaining control late in the fourth quarter.
“I’m so proud of the girls, it was an awesome game,” Overton said. “We really fought hard when we were down by 10 or so, it was nice to get the win.”
Marvels captain Samon Nathan said her side failed to adjust to changes within their own ranks and the Blast as they watched their lead disappear.
“We had a good start, but we just didn’t adjust to the changes and that’s how the score ended up like that,” she said.
The Blast started the stronger of the two teams but once the Marvels found their feet made big strides on the scoreboard.
New shooter and Northern Mystics training partner Grace Nweke showed she will be a player to watch during the Beko Netball League and her combination with Filda Vui looked like a seasoned pairing.
Nweke, who stands at 1.93m, was an easy target under the post but Vui could not be left unattended as she too showed accuracy with ball in hand.
The explosiveness and vision of mid-courter Tayla Earle made an impact for the Marvels as she combined well with her shooters and the hosts looked to be taking control with a 36-28 lead at half-time.
It prompted Piebenga to go to her bench and introduce some tall timber of her own with O’Connell, who matches Nweke’s height of 1.93m, brought into play.
She made an immediate impression as the Blast slashed the lead to five goals in the first few minutes of play.
Taneisha Fifita also came back into play at goal keeper where she marked up against Vui who picked up the goal shooter bib in place of Nweke.
It was an opportunity for Danielle Binks – one of four schoolgirls in the Marvels side – to make her Beko Netball League debut at goal attack.
The Marvels held onto a one-goal lead heading into the final spell but South – who looked more connected on attack and hungry on defence – had gained all the momentum with 15 minutes to play.
The hosts reintroduced Nweke but without Earle in the mid-court, struggled to get the ball to the shooting circle.
With nine minutes left to play, South edged ahead and never looked like relinquishing what was a slender advantage.
The defensive trio of Fifita, Overton and McMinn picked up valuable ball for the Blast which was converted at the other end by O’Connell who finished 30 minutes of play with an impressive 26 goals from 28 attempts.
SEE: DRAW, RESULTS and MORE
Northern Marvels 57 (Grace Nweke 27/30, Filda Vui 20/23, Danielle Binks 10/12) lost to Southern Blast 61 (Georgia Heffernan 17/24, Jess Allan 18/19, Jen O’Connell 26/28). Quarter scores: 16-14, 36-28, 46-45, 57-61.
Central Manawa 60 (Saviour Tui 32/44, Tiana Metuarau 11/13, Rochelle Fourie 17/21) beat Northern Comets 40 (Tamara Leonie 12/15, Vika Koloto 7/10, Christie Anderson 21/24). Quarter scores: 13-9, 28-21, 43-28, 60-40.