In a standout individual performance, shooter Maia Wilson played a key role in steering the Northern Stars to a 50-43 win over the Southern Steel at the Auckland Netball Centre on Saturday.
As games make a return to the regions this weekend, the ever-reliable Wilson made the last match at the centralised venue one to savour, keeping a clean sheet after converting all 39 of her attempts in helping the Stars post their highest score in the 12-minute quarter matches.
An emphatic first quarter set the Stars up. Trailing by nine at the first break proved too much of a lead for the Steel to negate despite competing on level terms for the rest of the match and actually winning the second and fourth quarters.
Apart from the opening minutes, the Stars held the edge, going unchanged throughout this match while the Steel, who have had a tough time on the injury front and having to back up on Monday, making multiple changes.
That included mother of two, Gemma Etheredge, who last played at the elite level in 2018, and now playing club netball in Christchurch, getting a call-up on Wednesday to help bolster the Steel ranks.
Both teams adopted a steady-as-you-go approach during the opening exchanges before the presence of Stars defenders Kate Burley and Storm Purvis helped the home side gain the initiative.
The disruptive influence of the in-circle defenders provided more ball for the Stars, who were mostly slick and precise through court. Once safely into the hands of prolific shooter Wilson, the Stars continued to build a handy lead.
Wilson was pin-point perfect from all areas on the shot, longer range shots this year, adding to her repertoire. With the Steel unable to find their flow on attack, two unanswered five-goal runs helped push the Stars to a dominant 16-7 lead after a high-scoring first quarter.
Changes were promptly made by the Steel for the resumption with Trinidad & Tobago import Kalifa McCollin moving up court to her more favoured goal attack position, Ellen Halpenny being injected from the bench to goal shoot and Kate Heffernan taking over the centre's bib.
There was immediately more impetus from the southerners as the Stars were forced into a messy start. The Stars defenders continued to leave an impression with Burley picking up four intercepts for the half while the renowned Steel patience was also a factor.
Finding their flow, the Steel had a much better second 12-minutes, the experienced head of Halpenny, a recent ring-in for the injury-plagued Steel while holding down a fulltime job as a police officer in Tokoroa, nailing 9/9 during the quarter.
However, with Wilson a model of consistency at the other end, converting all 21 of her attempts, it was the Stars who retained their edge when leading 26-19 at the main break.
With Grace Kara and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan continuing their strong through-court and feeding presence, it was the Stars who made the better start to the third stanza. Once again, the Steel struggled a little on attack, shooters Halpenny and McCollin very accurate under the hoop but lacking in volume.
With Abby Erwood taking over a goal defence, the Steel lifted in the latter stages, three straight goals helping them chip into the deficit. But it was the Stars who ended with a flourish, their accuracy and finishing giving them a handy advantage when leading 38-30 at the last turn.