A dominant force since the inception of the Beko Netball League, Central Manawa are striving to create another slice of history when they meet Waikato Bay of Plenty in Sunday’s Grand Final in Christchurch.
Featuring in every Grand Final to date, Manawa came home strongly in the latter rounds of this season’s competition to seal the top qualifying spot and with it the prospect of a third successive title.
Manawa finished runners-up in the inaugural league in 2016 before securing successive title-winning runs in the following two years. The make-up of the 2019 final showdown features the same two teams as last year.
``We are aware of the opportunity we have in front of us around what that looks like for the Central Zone in terms of being in our fourth final,’’ Manawa coach Pelesa Semu said. ``We are just treating it like another game but with an extra important build-up and there’s no issues around carrying that weight of expectation.’’
Semu has the luxury of being able to call on a handful of players who have finals experience which she believes could be a key advantage going into the crunch match-up.
``Last year we had a very new team and they were very new to the whole experience of finals netball but having over 50 percent of that same squad back this year, they know what it feels like and that is a great help to all involved,’’ she said.
Waikato Bay of Plenty set the early pace this year, their first loss coming in Round Nine to Manawa after the pair had played out an exciting draw just seven days earlier. With very little separating the teams, Semu believes those results will count for little and Manawa will have to be at their absolute best to secure the silverware.
``Both those games produced a lot of work-ons but coming into the Grand Final which is a completely different scenario, it’s pretty much a clean slate,’’ she said.
``We have looked at the data between both teams and numbers-wise it’s all very close. So, we have been working hard on that analysis to see if we can find any chinks in their armour that we can expose while continuing, at the same time, to do what we’re doing well.’’
Both teams finished the regular season with comprehensive wins, Semu confident that Manawa were hitting all the right buttons at the right time.
``Coming off that last game has given us a lot of confidence because that was the style and type of game that we’re wanting to play,’’ she said. ``To hit it at this stage, knowing we’re going into the Grand Final, the timing couldn’t be better. There is a lot of belief and we’re ready to go.’’
In a well-balanced side, standout shooter Khiarna Williams is a key cog for Waikato Bay of Plenty and denying her ball will be pivotal to Manawa’s game plan.
Both sides are likely to feature eligible players from their senior teams but for now Semu’s concentration has been on creating the right formula in the lead-up.
``Grand Final week is always interesting in trying to find the balance between our work-ons and channelling all the excited energy in the right direct but also realising that this is our last week together as a team, so making sure we’re having some fun at the same time,’’ she said.