A perfect 100 per cent performance from shooters Ameliaranne Ekenasio (25/25) and Aliyah Dunn (22/22) in the Central Pulse’s 47-40 win against the Steel illustrates the growing accuracy of the NZ netball premiership despite the absence of the immaculate Maria Folau.
No one has consistently sunk the long goals Folau amassed in her long international career. However the popular Ekenasio matched it at the Silver Ferns thrilling one-point final victory in Liverpool, England, against defending champions Australia last year.
Goal attack Ekenasio was again to the fore when leading the Ferns to Four Nations success in England soon after when Maia Wilson wore the goal keep bib with distinction.
But even Wilson and fellow Silver Ferns Bailey Mes and Te Paea Selby-Rickit cannot be confident of retaining their place in the squad ahead of national development squad members Grace Nweke and Dunn who consistently shoot better than 90 per cent.
It was 95 per cent for Nweke despite being squeezed between sprightly Ferns defender Jane Watson and robust Temalisi Fakahokotau when double marked in the Northern Mystics grand 47-42 win against the Tactix.
Nobody matches the 18-year-old, 1.93cm Nweke’s spring-heeled leap as she faultlessly gathers bullet and loping passes from midfielders Peta Toeava and Tayla Earle to push the Mystics to second behind the unbeaten defending champions Pulse.
The difference is the Katrina Rore-skipped Pulse have superior fitness and experience with versatile midfielder Maddy Gordon combining quick-footed defence with fast, accurate ball to her shooters.
Rore and fellow Silver Fern Karen Burger are tenacious Pulse defenders as is the Mystics combination of Phoenix Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick.
Meanwhile Saturday night’s Super Rugby Aotearoa Christchurch clash between the champion Crusaders and vastly improved Blues should be a thriller after both teams were taken to the wire by the gutsy Highlanders.
It was Hoskins Sotutu’s heroics that deservedly saved the Blues’ bacon – and 14 points from two converted tries in the final three minutes that clinched the Crusaders a flattering 40-20 win.
However, the Crusaders’ depth is such that in Will Jordan and David Havili they have two fullbacks who wouldn’t disgrace wearing the silver fern.
However despite Ben Smith’s international retirement, New Zealand have no shortage of fullback talent when one adds Damian McKenzie and Beauden and Brodie Barrett to the list.
What they still lack is a dominant tight five to combat the power of much improved England who killed their World Cup hopes in last year’s World Cup semi-final in Japan.
While England fully deserved their win, the All Blacks’ one consolation was they were the only side to beat the world champion Springboks who hammered England in the final.
Meanwhile, we await Saturday night’s Christchurch clash between the mighty Crusaders and Blues with great anticipation.
Has the Blues much-improved forward fire and backline cohesion grown enough to match that of a super fit champion team?
A pity that injuries have wrecked the season of dynamic young blindside flankers Tom Robinson (Blues) and Cullen Grace (Crusaders) who had shown so much ability.
However, up against All Black crackerjack wing Sevu Reece, this match provides young Caleb Clarke with another chance to show his wares.
Ditto for fast and incisive Rieko Ioane whose progress at centre has been pleasing.
Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author