The stage is set for an intriguing Marlborough premier netball final on Saturday.
On opposite sides of the Stadium 2000 court will be “country cousins” – Pelorus Edridge Contracting and Tokomaru Crafar Crouch Picton.
Last Tuesday the two finalists booked their places in the premiership decider, pushing aside SMOG and Harlequins respectively, two clubs who have almost exclusively dominated the local premier scene for the past few decades.
Toko took out the premier crown in 2017, a rare interruption of the SMOG/Quins dominance, while Pelorus are yet to get their name on the trophy. In fact, this year’s premier final will be their first trip to the “big dance”.
Courtney Taufa, Pelorus player/coach, is excited to be part of a squad on the cusp of creating history.
“Last year was out first semi in 18 years and this year we have made the final, so that’s awesome.
“Toko will be tough … they play with their heart on their sleeve and give it their all, so we have got to come out firing.”
Taufa said Pelorus had a simple recipe for success. “We work for each other … have each other’s backs.”
Tokomaru coach Vanessa Hika, who was part of the winning management team in 2017, knows what is required to win a premier final and feels her side has the potential to do just that.
“[The Tokomaru team] have come a really long way this season … they have become a much tighter unit as the season has gone on. They have trust in each other, and composure.”
Hika said the youth and relative inexperience of this side was a not an issue.
“I think Gemma [Hika] and Hana [Wilson] were the only ones playing when we won in 2017, but this group are quite capable of taking out the final.
“If they believe in themselves and want it more than the other team, it will be ours.”
The finalists have met three times previously this season, Pelorus prevailing 52-47 and 66-54 in their first two clashes, before Toko responded by taking out the round three match 61-58.
Both side possess key players at the attacking end. Pelorus shooter Paige Lovell is willing to put up shots from anywhere in the circle, making her exceptionally hard to restrict. She is expected to carry the bulk of the shooting duties.
Tokomaru pose a twin threat, with youngster Haze Tepuia, who operates sweetly close to the hoop working in tandem with the experienced Gemma Hika. Both are high percentage shooters.
The finalists are also well served at the defensive end.
Pelorus can call on Courtney Taufa and the ever-improving Oriana Houra. Both work well in close quarters while Taufa, particularly, is adept at hunting out for interceptions.
Toko’s Michaela Boaz and Naia Lawrence tend to fly under the radar somewhat, but are energetic and effective in the circle.
The midcourters will be evenly matched.
The regular Pelorus trio of Jenna Gilbert, Kelsie Fitzpatrick and Jordan Peipi are versatile, offering silky skills on attack and gritty defense without the ball.
For Toko, the Wilson sisters, Hana and Kayla, possess speed and the ability to feed their sharp shooters in a variety of ways. Brooke Horton complements the twins in midcourt with energy and dogged defense.
On Tuesday both finalists were made to earn their place in the season’s climax, Toko winning by a single goal and Pelorus being pushed hard all night, despite holding a six-goal buffer at full time.
Toko appeared to have their game in the bag, leading by 59-52 midway through the final quarter, before SMOG mounted a superb comeback, scoring seven of the last eight goals to close to within one of forcing extra time.
SMOG’s ability to lift their game in the final 15 minutes was admirable, their showing a vast improvement on efforts earlier in the season and an indication of how far they have come as a new-look team this season.
The night’s second semi was not as dramatic, but just as hard-fought. Pelorus led by a single goal at halftime, then built a handy lead after 45 minutes, an advantage Quins were unable to bridge.
While this will not be Harlequins’ year, as usual they have contributed plenty to the premier scene and played some exciting, innovative netball along the way.
However, it will be Toko and Pelorus who have the final say in 2019, preparing for a final match-up too close to call.
Tokomaru Crafar Crouch Picton 60 (Haze Tepuia 42/47, Gemma Hika 18/22) SMOG Good Home 59 (Lucy Barrett 17/22, Kate Gaudin 42/45). Quarter scores (winning team first): 19-17, 17-14, 15-13, 9-15.
Pelorus Edridge Contracting 50 (Paige Lovell 38/49, Olivia Pinkerton 12/16) Harlequins Radich Law 44 (Lauren Murray 21/31, Liv Hodson 23/27). Quarter scores: 14-7, 8-14, 14-9, 14-14.
Likely final teams
Pelorus (from): Courtney Taufa, Olivia Pinkerton, Jordan Peipi, Paige Lovell, Oriana Houra, Jenna Gilbert, Kelsie Fitzpatrick, Riana Burger, Laura Murphy, Kelly West.
Tokomaru: Michaela Boaz, Gemma Hika, Brooke Horton, Naia Lawrence, Haze Tepuia, Hana Wilson, Kayla Wilson, Hannah Dickson.
Premier: Tokomaru v Pelorus 2pm; grade one: MGC v Harlequins 12noon; grade two: United v MGC 10.30am; grade three: Tokomaru v MGC 10.30am; Pelorus Bottle-O v Pelorus Revival 9am; grade five: 3rd and 4th – Harlequins v Bohally 9am, 1st and 2nd – Pelorus v Wairau 12 noon; grade six: SMOG v Harlequins 9am; social grade: Harlequins v Pelorus 10.30am.