Extending their buffer at the top of the table has not detracted from Central’s focus for the key match-up against Mainland in the Beko Netball League in Christchurch on Sunday.
With Mainland slumping to a surprise 20-goal loss to a resurgent South last weekend, unbeaten Central were afforded extra breathing space while jumping seven points clear of their nearest rivals. That is bound to add some extra spice to the showdown between the top two teams this weekend.
Despite their clear advantage, the table-topping Central are taking no chances and believe this is a pivotal game in their season in which Mainland will have a point to prove.
``As the league has gone on, everyone has improved, certain teams in particular have picked up the pace and the competition has accelerated because of it,’’ Central coach Natalie Milicich said.
With their key scoring weapon Ellie Bird producing successful cameos for the Tactix in the ANZ Premiership over the last two weeks, Mainland were restricted to only having the towering shooter for half a game in their last outing.
But Central expect to face a full-strength Mainland line-up and are preparing for the 1.94m Bird to play a big role.
``Previous to last weekend they had only lost to us and it was a close game. They’ve had good wins against other teams and being on their home turf will add to the threat they pose,’’ Milicich said.
The pair last met five weeks ago, Central prevailing by three goals in a close tussle without their influential goal attack Renee Matoe who was sidelined with injury. The experienced Matoe will be back for this clash and is expected to inject a point of difference with her speed and variety.
Pulse players Karin Burger and Sheridan Bignall will also be added to the Central mix.
Central struggled to get the ball to their shooters in last week’s win over the Northern Comets and when they did securing offensive rebounds was added to the must-improve list. From 15 rebounding opportunities, Central were successful with none.
Not a feature that is usually highlighted for Central, that has been worked on during the week as well as adding variety to the shooting options and decision-making in the circle.
``Last week we had a great defensive game, the week before we had a great attacking game, so what I’d like to see is us putting it all together,’’ Milicich said.
``We haven’t had that perfect match yet We’ve had some really strong areas of success in different matches but what I’d like to see is us play 60 minutes and win every quarter which we haven’t been able to do yet.
``The big thing was our finishing. Jermaine (Howard-Vallance, goal shoot) still shot at 84 percent but the volume of the two goal attacks just wasn’t high enough and when we missed we didn’t get any rebounds.’’