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Auckland ends title drought with dominating defensive display

Auckland has won their first Netball NZ U19 Champs title in five years expelling the disappointments of just 12 months ago.

They led from start to finish in Thursday’s final against Wellington at ASB Baypark Arena in Tauranga, as they dominated defensively to win 35-26.
Their unbeaten run will go some way to making amends when, last year, the region failed to make the top eight in what proved a challenging age-group tournament, eventually finishing 10th.

But there was no stopping the Emma Haigh-coached side this year winning seven matches on the trot to claim their first Netball NZ U19 Champs crown since 2013.

She was delighted with their efforts in the final against Wellington and said everything went “absolutely to plan”.

“We knew quarter by quarter what we had to do both on attack and defence,” she said. We set the game plan and we stuck to it, they all committed to it and it just went seamlessly for us.”

Haigh said they had discussed the need for a strong start in the final against a Wellington team which had impressed throughout the week.

“That was a real treat to us as coaches to know that they went out there and gave it everything from the first whistle to the last,” she said.

Haigh believed the ability to use her entire squad throughout the four days had worked to their advantage leading into the final.

“The proudest moment was being able to see those who were new to the tournament or new to our environment, really stand up and put their hand up. It was really amazing.”

Auckland’s strong start saw them jump out to a 10-6 advantage by quarter time, led by goal defence Greer Sinclair who helped create a number of turnovers.

Wellington coach Frances Solia tweaked her line-up for the second stanza as they looked to cut the deficit.

Unforced errors marred Auckland’s play in the early stages of the quarter but they pulled ahead again to go into the main break with a 20-14 lead.

They continued to build on their buffer as Wellington struggled to penetrate the defensive wall set up by mid-courters Tayla Earle, wing defences Armani Lam and Halaevalu Toutaiolepo and circle defender Greer Sinclair.

Auckland introduced Beko Netball League defender Antonia Hei-Hei in the second half with her intimidating presence adding to Wellington’s mid-court wobbles.

Wellington launched another attack in the third quarter and came within three goals before Auckland re-established a 24-19 advantage with one spell to play.

Solia said she was proud with the way her Wellington players had performed over the four days and their ability to inject a number of young players into the squad would leave them in a good position for next year.

“We’ve gained a whole lot of new players this year who were playing in their first year and to reach the final is great,” she said. “I think the inexperience of our girls did show through against Auckland but that’s okay – it’s just time.”

The two rival teams have shown the benefits of their youth development programmes with the depth of talent evident over a tough week of Netball.

Netball New Zealand Emerging Talent Panel Convenor Lee-Anne Clark said it was good to see the two regions bringing some fresh faces through.

“Neither team has relied on their Beko League players – Auckland had just the one – while Wellington had quite a few newer players out there,” Clark said.

“They both have a strong youth programme in place and I think that was telling with the strength on their benches as well as their starting seven.”

Meanwhile, in the play-off for third and fourth, North Harbour came from behind to beat Manawatu 31-28.

They led by two goals at the first break but trailed 14-15 at half-time and were down 20-23 heading into the deciding quarter. But they turned the game on its head in the fourth quarter as they came from three goals down to win by the same margin.

Last year’s winners, Trust Waikato Hamilton City, rounded out the top five after they beat Dunedin 39-24.