Despite the impact of COVID on the ravaged sporting landscape in 2020, some things stay the same.
In a repeat of the 2019 premier netball final, Tokomaru will do battle with Pelorus at Stadium 2000 on September 19.
Both teams made their way to the “big dance” with comprehensive victories on Tuesday, top qualifiers Toko romping past SMOG 73-40 in the early game, then Pelorus accounting for Harlequins, who had beaten them twice before this season, 48-33.
SMOG may have been underdogs going into their clash with the defending champs but they looked more than equal to the task in the first quarter, sharing the spoils 13-13. With possession even and SMOG’s shooters, Anna Gardiner and Kate Gaudin, going at 100 percent it was game on.
However the second quarter turned the match on its head.
After an even first five minutes, Toko changed gear. They went on an 18-1 scoring run, leaving SMOG chasing shadows, taking poor options and wondering how the score could build so quickly.
With Eden Te Huki and Michaela Boaz snaffling up any opportunities to create turnovers in the defensive circle, the ever-energetic Wilson sisters operating smoothly in attack and pressurising SMOG’s passing game, it became one-way traffic.
When the halftime hooter went the Ladies in Black trailed 34-19 and the game was effectively over, especially with Haze Tepuia and Gemma Hika operating at a tick under 90 percent for the match.
SMOG’s three shooters were also on song, making the most what little ball they received. In total, they put up just over half the shots that their rivals managed but registered an 86 percent success rate.
The injection at halftime of Isabella Rohloff at GS and Sarah Hammond at centre, with Gaudin moving to wing attack, helped steady the ship, but the damage was done and SMOG never threatened to close the gap significantly.
A feature of Toko’s play is their willingness to stick to their own roles and work hard for each other. A non-selfish attitude, quick hands in midcourt and an ability to create several pathways into the circle, not just relying on a high ball to the lofty Tepuia, means they will go into the final as hot favourites.
However, Pelorus will definitely have other ideas.
They have had trouble with Quins this abbreviated year, and would be the first to admit they have been far from their best lately, but on Tuesday they produced the sort of game they have been looking for.
From athletic defenders Oriana Houra, Jalen King, Jenna Gilbert and Jordan Peipi, to the skilled midcourt of Kelsie Fitzpatrick and Laura Murphy, onto the admirable Paige Lovell and Olivia Pinkerton in the shooting circle, they all played their part, building their lead by small increments through each quarter.
As the scoreboard pressure mounted, Harlequins became more desperate. Despite creating plenty of turnovers, they were often unable to convert them into goals, accuracy deserting them at vital times.
The arrival of Jackson McLaren at GD after halftime provided some defensive spark, while Maighan Watson and Sophie Robinson worked hard to bring their side back into the game.
But ultimately it was not enough and Pelorus thoroughly deserved the opportunity to make amends for their 58-53 loss to Toko in last year’s final.
However, they would have to lift their game another 10 percent if they are to stop the Picton crew from completing an unbeaten season.
If Pelorus are looking for inspiration they may look back to late July when they held Toko to 48-47. A similar scoreline would make for an enthralling final, especially in front of a capacity crowd – fingers crossed.
Tokomaru Crafar Crouch Picton 73 (Haze Tepuia 58/62, Gemma Hika 15/20) SMOG Good Home 40 (Kate Gaudin 9/11, Anna Gardiner 22/24, Isabella Rohloff 9/11). Quarter scores (winning team first): 13-13, 21-6, 19-14, 20-7.
Pelorus Edridge Contracting 48 (Olivia Pinkerton 13/17, Paige Lovell 35/52) Harlequins New World 33 (Stacey Hopkins 23/36, Lauren Murray 10/19). Quarter scores: 14-9, 14-9, 11-9, 9-6.
Final (Saturday September 19): Tokomaru v Pelorus