Monday, 30 March 2015

Central Pulse team up well for 49-38 victory over Magic

Pulse gave supporters a welcome lift last night in their 49-38 victory over the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic.

Pulse have risen to the occasion before with Magic and it was a true team effort last night (Monday). The line-up was traditional rather than innovative but Katrina Grant and Te Huinga Reo Selby Rickit showed flair in defence along with wing defence Joline Henry who was brilliant in restricting ball to Magic goalers. Selby Rickit too not only picked up valuable ball but conveyed it with accuracy to centre court players.

Centre Elias Shadrock and wing attack Liana Leota were also impressively sharp and rapidly responsive in the mid court. Although both sides incurred many turnovers, Pulse's ability to get ball to the shooters Irene van Dyk and Jodi Brown enabled 60 shots to be taken at goal with a highly satisfactory 82% conversion rate.

Individuals fronted up impressively as a team, but it should be kept in mind that Magic is a relatively young team sorely missing their captain Casey Kopua in the defence line. However the Magic's Leana de Bruin was a very effective defender. Magic goal shooter Jo Harten stepped up urging her team on and centre court players Samantha Sinclair, Jamie-Lee Price and Grace Rasmussen were sharp on attack. However, the Pulse's defence all over court was extraordinarily effective, throttling passage to the Magic goal.

Magic did not hesitate to call in their bench players but the Pulse momentum allowed them to triumph by 11 goals.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Central Pulse attack options too narrow against Northern Mystics' onslaught

Pulse need to concentrate on craftier midcourt play to succeed in the ANZ championships.

It's easy looking at the goal scores to say that the problem is goaler accuracy. But as commentators have pointed out, Pulse often lack a "second phase" . Too swift centre passes after the whistle are part of this. Centre Elias Shadrock continues to play these passes and she is a  promising player (although not necessarily just as centre). The opposition are too close and attackers are often within hand or elbow reach of defenders. Attackers must find space. On Monday the ball teetered in small narrow passes down to the goal. Temepara Bailey observed that Pulse often had just one option on attack. 

The shooters have already been tormented into an eye of the needle scenario making desperate sorties to try to find space to launch a goal. The whole thing is frantic and frenetic and psychologically undermining. What follows swiftly deflates the hopes of great defenders like Joline Henry. Adept defenders Katrina Grant and Ama Agbeze then watch the ball at the other end being tossed around some more. A goal might be tried and possibly lost. Shooters, whipped into a frenzy, lose accuracy.

This match was more frustrating than most because shooter Ameliaranne Wells shooting at 78 per cent accuracy was shunted off for Irene van Dyk. When a player like Wells who will shoot from most places in the circle was so close to optimal 80 per cent shooting, putting her off was a bad idea. Van Dyk came on briefly but that particular duo did not work and the reinstated Wells had lost her composure and accuracy. Her partner Jodi Brown is a competent feinter and dodger but prefers to shoot further in especially when surrounded by defenders like Temalisi Fakahokotau and Kayla Cullen. Despite some difficulty converting in the last quarter, Wells fed Brown with superb timing.

Contrast the movement of the Pulse with the Mystics. Despite both sides making many errors causing frequent turnovers, Mystics deployed time effectively to set up first and second phase. Players found space comfortably apart from the opposition around centre court. Defenders from both ends could disrupt things in and around the circle, but Mystics' passes were generally longer and more accurate. Procession to the goal was swift and efficient and less claustrophobic than the Pulse's torturous route. 

Liana Leota projected fatigue rather than her usual flair and enjoyment.  Playing alongside Serena Guthrie full of energy, flair and crafty play was always going to be difficult. No Whitney Sounness came out to relieve Leota when the fourth quarter started. Sounness might lack big match experience but she has so far proved to have a great jump, feeds cleverly and comes on well as an impact player. Sounness is capable and crafty on the circle edge. A ball or two might have been lost in transition but her previous impact performances should have earned her a place in the last quarter or last half.

Both Mystics' Fakahokotau and Cullen were superb in defence although Fakahokotau needs to stay off the body more. Laura Langman and Nadia Loveday in the Mystics centre court had a good court flow to the maestros Cathryn Latu and Maria Tutaia in the goal circle. Joline Henry's game was masterful with the ability to save and gather ball and look long.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Pulse defeated by fiery Firebirds in very physical match

Queensland Firebirds enjoyed a 52-46 victory over the Central Pulse at Te Rauparaha Arena last night in a thrilling tussle.

The Pulse managed to keep within a couple of goals against the Firebirds until three-quarter time. But their shooters failed to match the 16 goals put in by Firebirds' Romelda Aiken and Amorette Wild in the final quarter. Pulse coach Robyn Broughton stuck with her starting seven throughout and centre courters Leana Leota and Elias Shadrock did not disappoint with aerial dynamism and slick passing. I heard the game being described as "Bullrush" and certainly both of these centre courters had to put up with Firebirds pretty much in their face. Firebirds' wing defence Gabi Simpson was sinbinned for three goals' duration for repeated deliberate contact offences in the third quarter.

Jolene Henry was always dangerous at wing defence but the force and velocity of the ball thrown at her colleagues on a few occasions meant it went out and possession was squandered. Katrina Grant began brilliantly by intercepting the Firebirds' first centre pass and remained a defensive force to reckon with. Ama Agbeze starting for the injured Te Huinga Reo Selby Rickit did some outstanding defence work on the very tall 1.96m Romelda Aiken. Aiken though was by far the most prolific of the Firebirds' shooters landing 37 from 45 shots and it was difficult to do anything about the bolt shots delivered straight to her.

Whitney Sounness was not used but could have been used to spell Shadrock or Leota. Perhaps inserting impact players for a spell or two might have given the Firebirds something to think about and adjust to. Using the same seven gives the future opposition lots of information and makes the Pulse strategy predictable. However, undoubtedly the Firebirds are one of the toughest Australian sides so the decision to use the same seven was probably made with that in mind.

Kim Ravaillion and Verity Simmonds at centre court for the Firebirds played with flair. Simmonds fell on, and injured her wrist just before full time when she collided with Jolene Henry and appeared to be in considerable pain. Pulse redoubled their efforts and managed to add to their score but it was too late and the Firebirds coasted to a comfortable win.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Pulse falter while Magic sparkle

Mojo Pulse's abysmal result of 64-40 against the Melbourne Vixens yesterday at Margaret Court stadium in Melbourne was about the whole team.

While captain Katrina Grant played a sterling game, many Pulse senior players - and Pulse is the most experienced team in the league with eight players having over 50 ANZ matches - performed as nervous individuals.

The slickness and even the confidence in their own fitness exemplified in their pre-season game against the Vixens vanished. It is too easy to blame goalers for the result. The Pulse's first goal took nearly four minutes. Ameliaranne Wells was penalised for the shortest three seconds I have known which would not have settled nerves. But the centre court of Liana Leota, Joline Henry and Elias Shadrock have to take responsibility. As Sky commentator Sue Gaudion noted when Whitney Souness came on in the fourth quarter and attempted to deliver to the circle, better lead-ins were required. Although Souness's attempt was unsuccessful Gaudion applauded the effort which she thought was overdue. Souness's error rate was no worse than much more senior players and her circle edge approaches skilful. 

The Pulse should have been warned in pre-season play against the Southern Steel in Otaki. In their first quarter before recovering to comfortably take the game they were at one stage ten goals down. This is not the hallmark of an experienced and match-ready team and the Steel do not boast anything like the experience of the Pulse. The ANZ is a class competition. You cannot expect to run such deficits and win.

Henry needed to step up to the challenge of the Vixens' Madi Robinson who seemed to have the freedom of the court. Leota can feed adeptly but she was not up to the challenge yesterday. Part of the problem might have been Kate Moloney who was all over everything including Leota. Leota like many Pulse players projected weariness but standing tall against Moloney's incursions might have yielded the odd contact penalty.

Liz Watson, Moloney and Robinson as Vixens' centre, wing defence and wing attack were a formidable frontline. Perhaps this was an occasion to call on Henry as a centre, so that Shadrock could have utilised her effective wing defence skills. Perhaps Leota could have been relieved for at least a quarter (by Souness) to recover. Van Dyk too should have come on earlier, either with Jodi Brown (as actually occurred) or with Ameliaranne Wells, a combination which seemed to work in pre-season games. Coach Broughton does have options, but struggling players - experienced or otherwise - should not be left to flounder.

The Pulse's issue is not with goalers as such but with a whole team effort bringing the ball to the edge of the circle rather than throwing and hoping. At three quarter time the Pulse had only 37 attempts at goal compared with the Vixens 52. Shooters cannot perform without adequate ball supply. The Pulse did not pass swiftly enough, creating situations where circle entry became difficult if not impossible.

Van Dyk provided an excellent target for shooters but should resist the temptation to throw out again if not immediately underneath the posts as Geva Mentor and Bianca Chatfield are not to be toyed with. Neither were Tegan Philip, who was excellent as Vixens' goal attack - player of the match -  and Karyn Bailey as goal shooter. 

Positives to take from the weekend were:
  • Magic's victory over the Thunderbirds in Adelaide.
  • Magic's victory despite Casey Kopua's absence with a young team that had self belief
  • Magic's recipe of supporting each other and playing as a team.
  • Steel's youngish team performing well against highly favoured New South Wales Swifts 
  • For the Pulse Souness's debut was creditable, Katrina Grant defended skilfully and at least they got the score to 40.
  • The victory of Perth's Fever over more highly rated Queensland Firebirds. It all had to do with belief in each other and great team-work.