Emerging intact after some close shaves, Central now have the opportunity to contest a third successive Beko Netball League final if they can get past the Northern Comets in Auckland on Sunday.
In a fitting climax to a closely-contested regular season, the make-up of the two teams for the July 29 Grand Final will not be decided until the final match of the last round, featuring Central and the Comets.
Winners of the title last year and runners-up in the inaugural Beko League in 2016, Central looked to have blown their chances of lining up for a third time when knocked from top spot on the table two weeks ago following a surprise loss to South.
However, there has been a regular changing of the guard between the top three teams in the second half of an absorbing and compelling season where Central, Waikato Bay of Plenty and Mainland have diced for the top two spots.
The young Central team added to the intrigue and revived their hopes while dealing a major blow to an experienced Mainland team last week after posting a seven-goal win, the southerners slipping from first to third in the process.
``We came away from Christchurch with a real feeling of confidence and self-belief after getting the result we wanted,’’ Central coach Pelesa Semu said. ``We needed that result to stay alive and the situation’s no different this week, our destiny remains in our hands.’’
With most of the Central team new to the high performance environment and the associated cut and thrust, the challenge now for Semu is to move her players on from last week’s triumph. Comets are out of the reckoning but have some handy players and, with nothing to lose, have the opportunity to be spoilers.
``We got what we wanted from Christchurch and now it’s a matter of changing the focus to how we put Comets away,’’ she said.
``We learnt a lot of lessons from our loss to South, particularly around our preparation and hopefully we can use those to our benefit.
``That loss was a great reminder for us because we had been tracking along really, really well and then came unstuck but it was a great lesson in determining what we needed to do better.
``Comets are at home, will want to finish their season strongly and have players who have played at the higher level, so we have to be ready for everything they’re likely to throw at us.’’
In an opposite scenario to what they have done for much of the season, Central had a strong first half against Mainland before showing great resilience to hold them at bay for a drawn second half.
Shooters Saviour Tui and Jermaine Howard-Vallance have been key performers all season while against Mainland, defenders Elle Temu and Renee Savai’inea had storming games. With nine intercepts between them, the pair played havoc in the Mainland circle.
``Ultimately, I’m really proud with our growth and where we have come,’’ Semu said. ``Earlier in our campaign, we would have thrown leads like that but we’ve learnt a lot about holding possession, doing the grinding work and backing each other.
``Now we’ve just got to go and do what we’re good at. We’re all aware of where we had to be but it’s important for the players to realise they don’t need to deviate from the stuff they’ve been doing really well. And that’s our focus and challenge during trainings this week.’’