With three rounds remaining, pushing to new levels remains a strong motivator for high-flying Central despite having already secured a place in June’s Beko Netball League grand final.
After seven rounds, only Mainland has come within single digit figures of the well-performed Wellington-based team this season and with a new mindset for the final surge, the resolve to kick on and keep the foot on the pedal is at the forefront of Central’s thinking.
Last year’s runners-up meet defending champions South in Lower Hutt on Sunday and while ticking off their first goal of making the final, taking things easy in the interim is not part of the plan.
``Making the grand final with games to spare does not change our approach at all,’’ Central Coach Natalie Milicich said.
``It now means the pressure’s on even more, so we’re going to use the next three weeks to really grow our game and put ourselves under a bit of pressure.
``It’s an opportunity to do things a little bit differently than we have done over the last few weeks. We’re going to try new things, get ourselves out of our comfort zone and really push on to learning new things now that we’re in the position we’re in. The girls are very determined to keep things going and improving.’’
Showing the strong relationship between the two teams, Pulse players Cathrine Tuivaiti and Phoenix Karaka attended Central training this week, adding their expertise to each end of the court while reinforcing the mental aspect of helping their understudies grapple with the concept of pushing both personal and team boundaries.
``Having those two players there as Silver Ferns was just great for the girls,’’ Milicich said.
``The Beko girls look up to those players, they’re the stars and their heroes, so they soak everything up and then get out and do it.’’
South made a slow start to the season, hampered by losing the lanky and versatile Jennifer O’Connell to injury for the early part of their campaign. O’Connell was a key figure in South’s winning run last year and while they probably won’t make this year’s play-offs, the southerners have the potential to play a spoiling role in this year’s edition.
``She is a strength for them and it will be her third week back in the South team so I would suggest that they are starting to find some form and will come out strong this weekend,’’ Milicich said.
``And their ability to swing her from one end to the other is something that we are aware of. She may end up shooting or playing goalkeeper.’’
With a tightly-packed table below them and the race on to grab the second grand final spot, Milicich expects a lift in intensity over the closing rounds with the Northern Marvels and Waikato Bay of Plenty, in particular, targeting Central in coming weeks.
``There’s a few teams fighting for that second spot and that’s probably where we’re even more at risk with them knowing they have to beat us if they want to get to the final,’’ she said. ``We will be a target because there’s a lot on the line.’’