Central Manawa get the opportunity to put their credentials to the test when they meet Waikato Bay of Plenty in a top-of-the-table Beko Netball League clash in Wellington on Sunday.
Unbeaten to date, Waikato Bay of Plenty remain in pole position while Manawa have just the one loss as the pair have opened up a clear gap from the chasing pack at the top of the points table.
In a quirk of the draw, the teams will now clash in successive weeks as they look to lay claim to a place in May’s Grand Final.
For defending champions Manawa, it has been a lead-in with a difference, one competition match being bookended by two byes. That has afforded coach Pelesa Semu a solid two-week preparation with the focus solely on Waikato Bay of Plenty and included training matches against sister team, Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse.
``We’re ready,’’ Semu said. ``A lot of our focus has been around how we can counter Waikato Bay of Plenty and their strengths. In terms of our draw, it has been a different lead-in but it has given us plenty of time to focus on this one match which has included a lot of time on opposition analysis.’’
Semu has stuck with a consistency of selection through the season, including the injection of those who qualify from the Pulse ranks, which is starting to pay dividends in terms of building a platform and team unity.
``Having Maddy (Gordon) and Ellie (Temu) has been a great. Because they were involved last year, they are very aware of what Beko’s like and when they have come in for us from the Pulse, they have just slotted in really well. There’s been no hiccups, they get stuck in, they always greet the other players when they arrive and it’s just been really seamless.
``And that has really helped the players around them, who are drawn to what that offers and that has been a major spin-off.’’
A consistent Waikato Bay of Plenty have produced a string of strong results during the season to date, Semu citing the retention of a core of players from last year who are familiar with each other, the structure of their game and a clutch of skilful players as their main strengths.
``It’s always a tight battle with Waikato Bay of Plenty, we’re all really looking forward to it and if past encounters are anything to go by, it should be a real ding dong,’’ she said.
``For our part, accuracy and possession is massive. We’re coming along really well in that area, so we just want a consistency in what that looks like.’’
Looking to now consolidate and play with regular consistency as the business end of the season looms, Semu is pleased with the progress Manawa have made over the course of the competition.
``We’ve just kept building and progressing,’’ she said. ``We’re making some really good decisions on attack, especially under pressure which is an area where we really struggled at the beginning of the season.
``That whole area of consistency is the focus from here on in as we look to secure a Grand Final spot.’’
The match, which will be televised live, is the curtain-raiser to the ANZ Premiership match between the Pulse and Magic.