Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel defender Taneisha Fifita isn’t fazed by the 1.96m task she has to tackle on Monday night. In fact, she can’t wait to test her mettle against one of the world’s best.
The 1.85m Fifita will be assigned the challenge of containing Australian Diamonds captain and sharpshooter Caitlin Bassett when the southerners take on the Splice Construction Magic at ILT Stadium Southland.
Last time the pair met three weeks ago, Bassett was in formidable form with a strike rate of 95 percent. Fifita is determined to see those statistics reduced in the rematch.
“My focus is to keep my feet moving around the body so I don’t get called for those contacts which would let her have easy shots. It’s important to try and stay in play,” she said.
Thrust into netball’s elite ranks as a 15-year-old, Fifita has exceeded expectations from the outset, developing into one of New Zealand’s most promising defensive prospects.
When her tenacious approach attracted more than its fair share of the umpire’s whistle earlier in the season, Fifita opted to reinvent key aspects of her game and has since been playing with a maturity which belies her youth.
“With the help of my teammates and Reinga, it has been possible to make those changes. I was more used to that physical side of defence but I’m enjoying the challenge of understanding how I can play differently.”
It earned high praise from Steel head coach Reinga Bloxham who has been impressed with her young prodigy’s ability to evolve as a defender.
“Taneisha has the ability to change the game for us. Her ability to turn over ball or deflect it allows us opportunities to score,” she said.
“She has worked out how to use her strengths, especially her explosive power. She is so strong in the air and is now working out how and when to set up ball so she can use this strength and get ball lifted over her and then she is able to contest it.”
Being sent from the court against the Pulse earlier in the season proved a catalyst for change.
“Since then she has worked extremely hard to stay disciplined with her decision making … working out which ball she can go for and which stuff she may just need to leave,” Bloxham said.
“Her footwork has been key. We’ve worked on the footwork needed for her to come off the body, go backwards and then up in the air.
“Taneisha put in the hard work preseason and her body is conditioned for ANZ. She can handle the load physically and mentally now. She’s a lot more comfortable in the environment … when I hear her voice on court it makes me proud that she feels confident enough to use it now.”
Bloxham was anticipating a hard-fought clash against the bottom-placed Magic.
“Taneisha and Caitlin will be a good battle of youth versus experience. If Taneisha can keep her feet moving and confuse that space for the feeders then she will give herself every chance to turn over ball,” she said.
“The Magic game will be tough. It always is against them. Where they are on the ladder makes no difference to how we will prepare to play them. They are tight, niggly and never back down. We have to be strong on the take, run in to every pass and pull that ball in so they don’t get hand to it.”
In the hunt for a finals berth, Steel has an advantageous home run with three of its last five games to be played in Invercargill.
Southern fans will be able to watch the team in action live for the Georgie Salter Memorial against the Mystics on July 11, and during the ANZ Premiership Community Celebration round on July 24 against the Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse.
Tickets are available from ILT Stadium Southland or online at www.ticketek.co.nz.
• When the teams last met in Round 8 this season the Steel defeated the Magic 59-58 in Dunedin. The Steel and Magic have met 34 times since 2008 with the Steel winning 18 and the Magic 16.
• The last five results between the Steel and Magic have alternated with the Steel starting that run with a win in Round 10, 2019.
• The Steel has played 22 ANZ Premiership matches at ILT Stadium Southland for a record of 19 wins and three losses. The Steel has won both previous meetings against the Magic in Invercargill in 2017 and 2019.
• The Steel are coming off a 43-53 loss to the Stars in Dunedin in Round 10 and sit in fourth place on the ladder with six wins, four losses.
• The Steel have not claimed a bonus point in their four losses, losing by margins of 6, 14, 10 and 10.
• The Magic are coming off a 51-68 loss to the Tactix in Nelson in Round 10 and they sit at the bottom of the ladder with one win from 10 matches.
• The Magic conceded the highest score in Round 10 leaking 68 goals against the Tactix in Nelson. 68-goals is the highest score conceding in 2021 with the Magic conceding that in their last two matches against the Mystics and Tactix.
• The Magic are on a nine-match losing run which is a team record losing run in the ANZ Championship/Premiership era. The Magic’s previous longest losing run is seven matches between Round 9, 2018 and Round 1, 2019.
• The Steel will be without George Fisher for their Round 11 clash against the Magic after she suffered a concussion against the Stars in Dunedin in Round 10. Fisher has shot 415 goals at 90% for the Steel this season which is 78% of the entire teams goals this season.
• The Steel have the worst attacking record in the ANZ Premiership scoring just 53.1 goals per match, while the Magic is ranked third for goals scoring 55.4 goals per match.
• The Magic have the worst defensive record conceding 62 goals per match while the Steel has the second-best defensive record conceding just 53.7 goals per match.
• The Steel and Magic are the two most accurate teams in the competition; the Steel has the best record at 86.9% accuracy while the Magic is shooting at 86.7%.
For further information, contact:
Kate Buchanan, Media Manager - 021 292 1660