The Te Wananga o Raukawa Pulse immediately underlined their champion status with a decisive 53-41 win over the Good Oil Pulse at Blenheim’s Stadium 2000 on Sunday afternoon.
The defending ANZ Premiership champions from Wellington took on a Tactix side boosted by a couple of players returning from serious injury and the arrival of Silver Ferns shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit. The southerners have been tipped to make a strong showing in the 2020 competition, but will have some thinking to do after letting what was a close game at halftime get away from them in the second half.
In the end it was the Pulse’s more-settled combinations that saw them through the first match of the new season.
Their shooters Ameliaranne Ekanasio and Aliyah Dunn immediately clicking into the same gear that saw them finish 2019 in such style. Midcourters Maddy Gordon, Claire Kersten and Karin Burger offered pace and accuracy through the centre of the court while the defensive trio of the inspirational Katrina Rore, Kelly Jury and Elle Timu preyed on any loose ball and inaccurate passes.
However, it took them a while to get into full stride. After knocking in the first three goals they were reminded whose side the majority of the 1000-strong crowd were on when a loud roar accompanied the first goal from Selby-Rickit.
A see-sawing first quarter ended with the Tactix holding a slender 12-11 advantage, which became a 22-22 score line at the main break.
Immediately after halftime the Pulse upped the ante, moving out to a four-goal lead. Tactix replied to level midway through the quarter but the final five minutes belonged to the side from the capital as they forged a 38-31 lead at three-quarter time.
Despite working relentlessly to create turnovers in the final 15 minutes the Tactix were frustrated by the defending champs, who closed the game out in some style, combining scintillating straight-line attack with dogged defence to stretch the final margin to 12 goals.
The respective shooting stats also tell a story, Dunn nailing 35 from 38 attempts and Ekanasio dropping in 18 from 22. With less possession, the Tactix shooters put up nine less shots, Ellie Bird slotting 26 from 29 and Selby-Rickit 15 from 22 with her high-trajectory shots.
Skipper Jane Watson, who managed seven deflections for the match, showed the way for the Christchurch-based side, who also got good value from the hard-working Kimiora Poi, Erikana Pedersen and Charlotte Elley while Watson and Temalisi Fakahokotua worked well in tandem, especially in the first spell.
Despite the final scoreline, Watson was happy with some parts of her side’s performance.
“Our first half was really competitive … we sort of went away from doing our own jobs within out structure and we just got pulled apart a little bit in the third and fourth quarters.
“Also, as defence we didn’t get enough ball in that second half as well.”
The Silver Ferns defender expected that her side’s combinations would not take long to gel.
“Me and Tem [Fakahokotau] haven’t played together for a long time now and Te Paea has just come in, as has Erikana after her injury, so there was definitely nerves out there and new combinations.
“But it’s exciting and we will definitely come together eventually.”
Her opposing skipper, Rore, said she was happy with how her side had begun their title defence.
“We are up and running. At times it felt a bit like a Pulse home game actually, we had quite a few supporters here, which we were happy about.
“People have been talking up the Tactix this season so to play them first-up was nice and to get a win as well, we’ll take that.”