With a challenging run-in, Central Manawa are poised to deliver a late burst as a tight race unfolds to secure a place in the Grand Final of the National Netball League (NNL).

With two rounds remaining, Manawa have to win both to stay in the hunt and maintain their proud history of appearing in every final since the inception of the league in 2016. That quest starts with a televised match against the Northern Marvels in Auckland, on Sunday.

``The team are well aware that we have our destiny in our own hands at the moment, so they’ve got every reason to be excited about what’s in front of us,’’ Manawa assistant coach John Atkins said.

``In sport, some things are cyclical and things change over time. Central have had a really great history in this league and we’re hopeful that we’re going to be able to continue the legacy.

``We still have a very good chance of making the final as long as we win our last two games. So, we’re really focussed on making sure we put out our best performances in those two and hopefully the results will take care of themselves.’’

With the view to building on its depth of coaching talent, Central Zone appointed Emma Weenink and Atkins as assistants to Manawa head coach Anna Andrews-Tasola, originally for the 2020 season, but that ended up being derailed by Covid-19.

The Palmerston North-based Atkins has an impressive coaching pedigree and enjoyed considerable success with Manawatu age-group and NPC teams, the Massey University Tertiary Games and club teams while expanding his knowledge through coaching courses, programmes and workshops.

Providing opportunities at a higher level and including a coach from outside Wellington has highlighted a Zone-wide and inclusive approach to coaching pathways, with Atkins enjoying the refreshing opportunity and advantages of a three-pronged approach after last season’s false start.

``They’re a great bunch of players, they get on well together, there’s an excellent team spirit and camaraderie and I think they will look back on the season and say, `yes, we enjoyed it’,’’ he said. ``And that’s a really important facet of the game too, because we want the players to grow from this year, come back next year and be stronger.’’ 

Both Manawa and the Marvels have recorded some strong wins mixed with a few slip-ups but the northerners had a comfortable win when the pair met in the Round 3.

``It’s about the preparation and the weeks we’ve had leading up to it, and trying to make sure we’re training at the same intensity,’’ Atkin said of the upcoming clash. ``As long as we’re continually improving, we think we’re heading in the right direction.

``It’s about putting a really solid focus on our own performance and making sure we meet performance targets and as long as we achieve those, we know we’re going to get the result in the game.

``So, it’s about making sure we focus on the process of winning and not worrying about the outcome.’’