Premier netball is back – seven weeks later than usual but with traditional enthusiasm and similar scorelines.
The favoured teams took out Tuesday night’s late encounters at Marlborough Lines Stadium 2000 by comfortable margins, after the opening match became something of an arm wrestle.
Defending champions Tokomaru were too good for Awatere, prevailing 68-37, while last season’s other finalist, Pelorus, accounted for a young Marlborough Girls’ College side, 52-34.
However the evening’s first match was considerably more closely-fought, Harlequins eventually getting the better of long-standing rivals SMOG, 50-45.
After the first three quarters SMOG held a narrow 38-35 advantage, despite having established several handy leads during the first 45 minutes only to see Quins string a run of goals together to close up the scoreline.
Quins, with defenders Olivia Robinson and Jackson McLaren lifting their intensity, restricted their rivals to just 14 goal attempts, while putting up 26 themselves. Lauren Murray and Simone Pedersen, like most of the shooters on display, struggled for consistent numbers under the hoop, but dropped in enough goals to see their side home by five.
Both sides used their benches extensively, keen to give all the players a chance to stretch their legs after lockdown, with new combinations taking time to gel and a fair amount of rust evident in the technical skills.
However, given the unusual circumstances, it was an entertaining match. SMOG welcomed back experienced hands Cara Wiapo, Karli Murphy, Serena MacDougall and Anna Thomas while introducing new recruits Anna Gardiner, Isabella Rohloff and Ella Donald, all former MGC standouts.
Quins opened with Stacey Hopkins, better known on the basketball scene, under the attacking hoop, and welcomed back Simone Pedersen, surely one of the most versatile players on the premier scene. Katie Cunningham, formerly with SMOG, joined Olivia and Sophie Robinson as other new faces in the Quins’ camp this year.
In the late game on the main court Tokomaru began sedately against a new-look Awatere combination but increased the intensity through the first three quarters, before taking their foot off the gas in the final 15 minutes.
Toko marksman Haze Tepuia showed he has been busy under the hoop over the lockdown period by landing a stellar 40 goals from 42 attempts, while his partnership with goal attack Gemma Hika clicked smoothly back into gear.
The three Wilson sisters in midcourt, Hana, Kayla and Dana, ensured Tepuia and Hika had plenty of ball to play with, while Michaela Boaz anchored the defensive end, along with the energetic Chloe Devir.
Awatere, missing the steadily-improving Aimee Jones this week, got good value from skipper Nicole Witterick in midcourt, along with newcomer Kim Andrews. Hannah McCabe looked comfortable in the attacking circle, alongside the versatile Ashley Childs. Defenders Harriet Ryan and Dee Teddy had their work cut out against their Toko rivals but never gave up, helping their side to a morale-boosting final quarter win.
The Pelorus side had a familiar look to it, with quality in all areas, but took some time to find their feet against a willing MGC unit.
At haftime Pelorus held a slender 24-22 lead but they quickly ensured there would be no first night boil over by taking out the third 17-6 to put the game out of reach.
Their slick midcourt combination of Jenna Seabrook, Laura Murphy and Kelsie Fitzpatrick eventually shook off the rust and ensured shooter Paige Lovell and Olivia Pinkerton were kept busy. Oriana Houra and Courtney Avery appealed as an effective defensive duo.
The College side, who were without influential middie Eleri James-Sitters, relied on goal defence Mya Wiapo for much of their momentum and she delivered. Promising newcomers such as Mele Moli, Fiaalii Solomona and Aniuka Moetaua received an early indication of the pace of premier netball, while Taila Town and Oakley Tepuia showed the value of having a season behind them.
Just two rounds will be played this season, with no promotion/relegation between rounds, leading into semifinals and a grand final on September 19.
Harlequins Radich Law 50 (Lauren Murray 17/31, Stacey Hopkins 14/25, Simone Pedersen 19/31) SMOG Good Home 45 (Kate Gaudin 15/22, Anna Gardiner 30/47). Quarter scores (winning team first): 13-12, 10-16, 12-10, 15-7.
Tokomaru Crafar Crouch Picton 68 (Haze Tepuia 40/42, Gemma Hika 25/31, Dana Wilson 3/7) Awatere 37 (Hannah McCabe 17/28, Ashley Childs 20/30). Quarter scores: 17-11, 17-8, 23-6, 11-12.
Pelorus Edridge Contracting 52 (Paige Lovell 30/49, Olivia Pinkerton 14/25, Laura Murphy 8/14) Marlborough Girls’ College NZ King Salmon 34 (Taila Town 11/20, Fiaalii Solomona 16/24, Naia Lawrence 7/11). Quarter scores: 12-10, 12-12, 17-6, 11-6.
Standings: Tokomaru 3, Pelorus 3, Harlequins 3, SMOG 1, MGC 0, Awatere 0.