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.