Central have no plans to concede any ground to the chasing pack when they meet Waikato Bay of Plenty in the final round of the Beko Netball League in Tokoroa on Saturday.
Having cemented their spot in the June 18 Grand Final four weeks ago, motivation is not an issue for the high-flying Wellington-based team, who have a massive 14-point advantage over Mainland, their nearest rivals, at the top of the table.
Their opponents for this weekend sit in third place and come into the match with an outside chance of shoring up the other half of the Grand Final but Central are making no bones about their goals for the last match of the regular season.
``It hasn’t actually been hard to stay motivated,’’ Central coach Natalie Milicich said. ``We’ve really concentrated on performance, so even though we’re in the final we keep giving ourselves goals for improvement. Each week we have taken the players out of their comfort zone and extended them a little bit more.
``There is that belief that we need to make sure we’re getting good wins so that we’re not left saying it’s a fluke every week. We want to go through unbeaten, that’s our motivator. We want to say, `we’ve got this far, and we want to go all the way’.’’
The last round of the regular season gives Central the opportunity to fine-tune their processes while stabilising the starting seven and playing 10 for the Grand Final. The team will be bolstered by the return of talented St Mary’s College player Renee Savaiinaea, while Pulse team members Karin Burger and Sheridan Bignall will also join the fray.
Indicative of why the league was formed last year, Central have embraced the concept of exposing the next tier of up-and-coming talent to the high performance environment where they work in close tandem with their seniors, the Pulse. And it has paid off in spades.
``In this environment, the players know the importance of challenging themselves,’’ Milicich said. ``As part of our preparation, we are playing the Pulse twice over the next couple of weeks, so we’re continually putting ourselves under pressure at training to help with our overall performance.’’
Having sealed a Grand Final spot early in the piece, Central could quite easily have slipped into cruise mode but Milicich has ensured the intensity and focus has remained at high levels throughout.
``That’s one thing I’ve been really conscious of, that we don’t do that,’’ she said. ``If they have shown any signs of slackening off, I’m back on their case. We’re only as good as our last game and we can’t go into that final unprepared.’’
In a glowing testament to the programmes in place and Central’s growing depth, 18 players have had exposure during this season’s league, Milicich praising the input of the training partners for keeping everyone honest.
During the run to the Grand Final, Milicich has made a point of making numerous changes throughout games as she works through all the scenarios in making sure no stone is left unturned ahead of the season-finale.
``We’ve needed to keep everyone in the game, keep them all engaged and feeling that there’s an opportunity to earn a spot out there in the final. If you have injury or need change, it’s important to have everyone prepared for that,’’ she said.