Realising any slip-ups in an increasingly tense Beko Netball League could derail their season, Central are determined to remain in the driver’s seat when they meet South in Wellington on Sunday.
With just three rounds remaining, a tight race is developing to determine the two spots to contest July’s Grand Final. Central recovered from a slow start to the season to forge their way to the top of the table in recent weeks but threats abound.
Mainland and Waikato Bay of Plenty are within touching distance, sitting just one and two points adrift respectively while the Northern Comets, slightly further back on the table, are not entirely out of the picture either.
``Not that it’s been extensively drummed into the players, but we’re all aware that the next three games are very critical for our campaign,’’ Central coach Pelesa Semu said.
Although it’s a top of the table versus bottom of the table clash for Central this weekend, the home side are preparing for the unexpected.
``We’re still working hard towards just getting a complete performance while South have the opportunity to disrupt our campaign,’’ Semu said. ``We have played them already this season and regardless of that scoreline (60-36 win to Central), there will be no complacency from us.
``Teams with nothing to lose are dangerous teams and they will come out with all guns blazing. We’ve just got to be ready for it.
``Regardless of where we sit on the table, there’s no complacency and these are do or die games. The next couple of games will ultimately define our season, so we need to control what we can control.’’
The Beko League is producing exactly the type of intensity and pressure it was designed for as young players take their first steps in the semi-professional high performance environment. Semu is pleased with how her young charges have adapted and grown through an increasingly tense season.
``As the intensity levels have lifted across the competition, we’re expecting more from the players now and as a result, our trainings have lifted,’’ she said.
``Because we’re such a young team and they’d never been in situations where they’ve been in a pressured environment week-in week-out I wasn’t too sure how they would respond. But we’ve developed an environment where we are really pushing each other all the time and they have grown in leaps and bounds in that area.’’
The Central team has shown a steady rate of improvement throughout their campaign, the one sticking point being the inability to maximise the bountiful number of turnovers secured in most of their outings to date.
The team has a very capable shooting pairing in the form of exciting schoolgirl talent Saviour Tui and Jermaine Howard-Vallance but lapses in getting the ball into their hands through errors and poor decision-making has continued to plague the defending champions.
With that in mind, Semu is just looking to add the polish against South in the run to the business end of the season.
``We’ll be focussing on our through-court attack and tidying up our attacking end, in terms of our availability, timing and balance,’’ she said.
``It’s been great playing at home for the last few weeks and winning here has been a real boost for us, so we’re looking to finish our home run well this weekend with another win.’’