Central Manawa continued their dominance when cementing a third successive Beko Netball League title after toppling a gritty Waikato Bay of Plenty 49-46 in the Grand Final in Christchurch today.
Befitting the occasion, it was a spirited and evenly contested match before Manawa took charge late in the piece.
Manawa looked to have the game sewn up when they opened the final quarter with a flourish, a six-goal unanswered scoring spree pushing them out to a nine-goal advantage before having to weather a late run from their opponents.
Waikato Bay of Plenty staged a storming fightback with a run of five straight goals, narrowing the gap to four while providing an exciting finish. However, Manawa absorbed the late charge, their experience paying off as they went on to pocket the silverware.
``I’m just speechless, it’s a so cool for us as a Zone to get a threepeat,’’ player of the match Monalisa Groom said.
The unassuming Manawa goal attack was a tower of strength throughout, her non-stop support play and ability to create openings being a key for the winners.
``We started off pretty slow but when we pulled away in the first few minutes of the last quarter, I thought that was the winning of it for us,’’ Groom said.
``Our team culture has been fantastic and has played a great part in our success and it was been the whole squad that has got us to this point.’’
With every play being robustly contested, the defence-orientated nature of the game was highlighted from the outset.
Both teams exerted early through-court pressure which stifled a free-flowing spectacle during the opening exchanges but which opened up opportunities through a flurry of deflections.
Twice Waikato Bay of Plenty nosed to a narrow two-goal advantage but were reeled in by Manawa, four goals on the trot backed up by the sure shooting of Saviour Tui pushing her team to a tenuous 11-10 lead at the first break.
With wing attack Maddy Gordon intent on lifting the pace and Manawa continuing to squeeze defensively, the defending champions gained the early momentum on the resumption. In-circle defenders Elle Temu and Api Taufa did a great job in slowing the Waikato Bay of Plenty shooters as Manawa sprung out to a four-goal lead.
Personnel and positional changes benefitted Waikato Bay of Plenty when livewire midcourter Ali Wilshier made the move from wing attack to centre. In the thick of action across the court, Wilshier also added a quick and accurate service to her shooters.
A late rally helped Waikato Bay of Plenty eat into the deficit, in the process turning the tables to claim a 24-23 lead at the main break.
Waikato Bay of Plenty were out of the blocks quickly at the start of the third stanza, forging a two-goal advantage as a the tight and even contest continued to play out.
That resulted in Manawa reshuffling their line-up, the move of Gordon to centre adding extra speed and more accuracy on attack while creating a momentum shift.
Experienced defender Temu made her presence felt in the Waikato Bay of Plenty circle with a run of well-timed intercepts. At the other end, goal attack Groom provided valuable assistant with her all-round court work and ability to chime in with timely shots.
With their timing and flow becoming more prominent, it was Manawa who had their noses in front when leading 36-34 at the last turn.
Seventeen-year-old schoolgirl Tui completed a fine outing for Manawa, the cool-headed shooter slotting 36 goals from 38 attempts for a 95 percent return.