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Round 6 of the ANZ Championships
The Thunderbirds sent out a strong and clear message that they are a force to be reckoned with both at home and away, dealing the Steel a 58-48 defeat in Adelaide tonight.
After two wins on the road, the home court victory strengthened the Thunderbirds’ hold on outright second on the championship ladder. Although the Adelaide side were not convinced they put together a full performance in tonight’s clash, they had to be happy with a strong start and some stunning passages of play.
Meanwhile the Steel, always capable of an upset, were guilty of inconsistency – and yet again denied a victory on Australian soil.
With a pre-game objective to produce a potent start in front of their home crowd, the Thunderbirds began with a rush, drilling the ball through court to Erin Bell and Carlo Borrego who responded with clean shooting.
Rebecca Bulley was in her element at goal defence up against the hugely experienced Steel star Donna Wilkins, but Wilkins’ understanding with her shooting partner Jodi Brown was still effective.
Both sides were initially caught out in their attempts to try to lob the ball over the towers of defence, but the Thunderbirds were able to make smoother inroads through court, steadily expanding the gap between the two teams until they led 14-9 at the first quarter break.
While the Steel continued to struggle to pierce the Thunderbirds’ defence in the second spell, Brown and Wilkins defiantly finished off any ball that reached their hands. The Steel rallied just before halftime, cutting a nine-goal deficit to six, to go to the changing rooms trailing 28-22.
Wing attack Emily Beaton threw a scare into the Thunderbirds camp, leaving the court moments before halftime after twice rolling an ankle, but was back in the fray at the start of the second half.
In contrast, the Steel returned to the court with a new make-up, adding the enthusiasm of youth in new goal keep Storm Purvis and wing attack Shannon Francois. But the move cost the southern visitors crucial time settling in, and the Thunderbirds snatched the opportunity to attack with vigour, pushing the margin out to double figures.
A streak of five from the Thunderbirds near the end of the spell was a prime example of their ability to seize control of the game for sustained periods, but again they let the Steel sneak in four consecutive goals just before the break.
By then, the Thunderbird’s 45-32 advantage looked comfortable and coach Jane Woodlands-Thompson took the opportunity to introduce Kate Shimmin at goal keep; Sharni Layton retiring to the bench with a respectable haul of four intercepts from her appearance.
Shimmin found herself up against young Steel shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit, given her first court time in this year’s championship, replacing Brown at goal shoot. A confident Selby-Rickit wasted no time adding to the Steel’s total, and suddenly the deficit was reduced to eight.
Although the Steel could claim the honours of outscoring their opposition in the final 15 minutes, Bulley came to the Thunderbirds’ rescue - claiming some key final intercepts that were in turn converted by Bell and Borrego, ensuring a decisive victory.