‘It’s un­real’: Frew ends 16­year ca­reer in tri­umph

Otago Daily Times - - FRONT PAGE - JEFF CHESHIRE

WHAT a way for Wendy Frew to sign off.

The South­ern Steel cap­tain com­pleted a re­mark­able 16­year ca­reer with — if that was pos­si­ble — an even more re­mark­able win in her fi­nal game.

Her side de­fended its ANZ Premier­ship ti­tle yes­ter­day, scor­ing the fi­nal seven goals to beat the Cen­tral Pulse 54­53 in Palmer­ston North.

The Steel trailed the whole way and at one point was down 21­10.

It ate back into that deficit grad­u­ally, but it took un­til the fi­nal minute to get back within one.

A held­ball call against the Pulse with a minute left then gave the Steel the ball for Jen­nifer O’Con­nell to tie the score. Sec­onds later Te Paea Selby­Rickit sank the win­ning goal with 25 sec­onds to go, send­ing Frew off as a back­to­back cham­pion.

‘‘It’s un­real — it’s like a dream come true win­ning that game,’’ Frew said.

‘‘All week I just re­ally wanted to win and to come in that sit­u­a­tion and get the win, it’s just the best feel­ing.’’

She said while the sit­u­a­tion had looked un­likely the team never lost be­lief.

In­deed she ex­hib­ited that when she crashed over the courtside signage to win a loose ball mid­way through the third quar­ter.

That hus­tle showed how much she wanted the win and she said it might have been her ca­reer high­light.

‘‘It would be right up there,’’ Frew said.

‘‘Last year go­ing through un­beaten, that was primo, and I had some great wins with the Sting.

‘‘But in the cir­cum­stances, be­ing down by seven [in the fourth quar­ter] and the last game of my ca­reer, it was right up there for sure.’’

EVEN the most fer­vent South­ern Steel fan, and there are lots, must have just about given up when their team trailed by sev­eral goals with just a few min­utes left in the netball premier­ship fi­nal yes­ter­day. Surely, even the dogged Steel play­ers, could not pull off a won­der win.

But, that is what they did. They scored the last seven goals and hung on for the last 20 sec­onds to win back­to­back pre­mier­ships.

The Steel play­ers are made of stern stuff and are as tough as steel. Last year, with Ja­maican Jhaniele Fowler­Reid a tow­er­ing goal­shoot tar­get, they swept all be­fore them go­ing through 2017 un­beaten. At home in In­ver­cargill, they trounced the Cen­tral Pulse in the fi­nal 69­53.

This year was very dif­fer­ent. Mi­nus some key play­ers as well as Fowler­Reid, they bat­tled through patchy form, be­ing thrashed by 31 goals by the Cen­tral Pulse early in the sea­son. That is a mam­moth mar­gin in netball.

Steadily, they im­proved, fin­ish­ing sec­ond be­fore strug­gling through their pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal 53­49.

They were clear un­der­dogs go­ing into the fi­nal in Palmer­ston North yes­ter­day. And they looked very much the easy beats as the Pulse jumped to a 23­12 lead.

But sport brings so much joy be­cause it can be un­pre­dictable, be­cause the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble can hap­pen, be­cause in­di­vid­ual and team char­ac­ter plays such a role.

Char­ac­ter is what the Steel ex­em­pli­fied. Led by cap­tain Wendy Frew, in her 16th and last sea­son, the team fought on, throw­ing the Pulse play­ers off their passes and lead­ing only once in the match — when it counts, at the end.

The fer­vent In­ver­cargill crowd prob­a­bly tipped the bal­ance in their favour last week. Yes­ter­day the fact they know how to win might have been cru­cial. They be­lieved and that helped make any­thing pos­si­ble. By con­trast, a Pulse team, with its share of young play­ers, lost its rhythm.

Cap­tain Ka­t­rina Grant, her­self a Steel player in the Steel’s first sea­son in 2008 — when the Otago Rebels and the Sting com­bined — was dis­con­so­late. For ev­ery glo­ri­ous win­ner in sport there is a dis­traught loser.

Netball needed this type of ex­cite­ment and close con­tests. The ab­sence of the pow­er­ful Aus­tralian teams for the past two years in­evitably low­ered stan­dards, and the com­pe­ti­tion for the best women ath­letes is in­ten­si­fy­ing as other sports like women’s rugby, foot­ball and cricket gain pro­file and pay more play­ers. The dis­mal per­for­mance of the Sil­ver Ferns at the Com­mon­wealth Games, where the team failed to win a medal, also hurt netball.

The premier­ship took time to gather mo­men­tum with the wider pub­lic this year. But the tight­ness of many matches and the rous­ing cli­max has boosted in­ter­est.

At­ten­tion will now turn to see if the na­tional team can im­prove. As the Steel showed, suc­cess is not all about stars. Team spirit counts for so much.

Af­ter yes­ter­day’s match, Frew said ‘‘sport­ing dreams came true’’. How won­der­ful for her, her team, her team’s sup­port­ers and for sport in In­ver­cargill, South­land and Otago.

PHOTO: MICHAEL BRADLEY

‘‘We are the cham­pi­ons’’ . . . Steel play­ers and staff cel­e­brate with the tro­phy af­ter win­ning the ANZ Premier­ship grand fi­nal at Fly Palmy Arena in Palmer­ston North yes­ter­day. Pic­tured are (front from left) coach Reinga Blox­ham, as­sis­tant coach Lau­ren Piebenga, Shan­non Fran­cois, cap­tain Wendy Frew, Gina Crampton, Olivia Bates, Court­ney El­liott, man­ager Dayna Kaio, (back from left) Kate Hef­fer­nan, Te Huinga Selby­Rickit, Jen­nifer O’Con­nell, Te Paea Selby­Rickit, Dani Gray, Abby Er­wood and physio Co­rina Ngat­uere.

Cap­tain Wendy Frew cel­e­brates af­ter the South­ern Steel won netball’s na­tional premier­ship yes­ter­day.

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