What a difference Maddy Gordon and Ameliaranne Ekenasio make to national netball champions the Central Pulse who won the grand final by beating the Mainland Tactix 43-31 at Invercargill on Sunday.
Without them, they lost their previous game against the Tactix narrowly but, with them, they comfortably cruised to 12-point win.
The Pulse are a star-studded outfit with goal shoot Ekenasio, captain Katrina Rore and wing defence Karen Burger featuring prominently in the Silver Ferns world championship victory last year.
Goal keep Kelly Jury has been there before and young wing attack Gordon and goal shoot Aliyah Dunn are making a strong case for inclusion too.
Having failed to make the national squad last year because coach Dame Noelene Taurua felt she wasn’t fit enough, Dunn shot 28 goals from 30 attempts for a 93 per cent success rate in Sunday’s final.
It was fleet-footed wing attack Gordon who provided her with much of the ball although Ekenasio is also no slouch when it comes to feeding her shooting partner.
This time Ekenasio slotted 15 of 18 attempts for a modest – by her standards – 83 percentage, the same as registered by Ellie Bird for the Tactix with 19/23. However the sweet moving, cool-headed Ekenasio also made nine assists.
Te Paea Selby-Rickit shot 92 per cent for the Christchurch-based side with 12 from just 13 attempts.
Although Jury had her best game for some time, she and gallant Tactix captain Jane Watson struggled to contain the speedy Pulse attack, especially in the first half when they trailed 13-23.
However Gordon was fully deserving of the Most Valuable Player award with her ability to make interceptions and deflections on par with her expert feeding of the circle.
Overall, it was a fitting farewell to outstanding coach Yvette McCausland-Durie who will mentor what should be a strong New Zealand Under 21 team.
The talent available is amazing when one considers the likes of the Northern Mystics goal shoot Grace Nweke, aged 18, who leaps like a gazelle to gather bullet passes despite being double marked.
However, while staying close to the goal post is her preferred option, she will need to be more flexible in her movement to reach her full potential against tough Australian and English defenders. Still, at her age, she remains an incredible talent with a bright future beckoning.
Having performed so well for the Silver Ferns in the Vitality Netball Nations Cup following Maria Folau’s international retirement, Maia Wilson should remain the preferred goal shoot option as Ekenasio’s partner. But it’s pleasing to have so much depth available.
Today the Silver Ferns and development squad will be announced.
Meanwhile Kiwi golfer Lydia Ko had yet another disappointing finish in the British Open when she closed with a four-over par 75.
After being just two shots off the lead at the halfway mark in fourth place, Ko dropped to seventh with a third round 72 before fading to 14th over the final round, 11 shots behind German winner Sophia Popov.
It was the third straight tournament she failed to kick on with after promising starts. Nevertheless hope remains she will continue to improve.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author