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Cross-town rivals set to make NNL history

A new National Netball League winner will be etched into the trophy when Auckland’s cross-town rivals, the Northern Comets and Northern Marvels, go head-to-head in Sunday’s Grand Final.

The unbeaten Comets meet their netball neighbours the Marvels at The Trusts Arena to determine which side will become just the third team to lift the spoils of Netball New Zealand’s pathway league – Central Manawa and Southern Blast the only other teams to have won the former Beko Netball League title since the competition’s inception in 2016.

Comets coach Temepara Bailey said her charges had an excited buzz at training this week and it was the former Silver Fern midcourter who admitted to feeling the most nerves heading into the final.

“I’m probably feeling nervous for them,” she said with a laugh.

“I’m really happy for them to have got to this point but I just want them to keep showing what they can do.”

The Comets have set the bar this season – a 43-43 draw with Manawa the closest a team has come to toppling the side over 11 rounds.

Bailey feels she has had the right mix of an “experienced spine” and some promising newcomers in her squad, making it hard to select a game-day 10 from her 16-strong squad.

One of those promising youngsters has been schoolgirl sharp-shooter Amelia Walmsley who recently got called up for ANZ Premiership duties with The Good Oil Tactix.

“Seeing Amelia play (for the Tactix) was something special – I look at that as a success for this team,” she said.

But Bailey also looks at the contributions of experienced midcourters Nadia Loveday and Chonaire Huriwai and defender Nanise Waqaira as a key factor in the team’s run to the final.

“They are that spine of the team and bring that knowledge when the pressure goes on. It’s been such a good mix and I’m so proud of how far they’ve come.”

The Comets have beaten the Marvels twice during the regular season, including last week’s six-goal win at the Auckland Netball Centre, but Bailey knows previous results count for little in a winner-takes-all encounter.

“It’s a cliché but we know that we need to continue to do our own jobs, believe in each other and get that good start,” she said.

“They have the confidence in each other and we’re just looking forward to getting out there.”

Marvels coach Ripeka Pirie talks from a similar coaching sheet as she speaks about the growing belief in her side.

“I think we’ve steadily built this season and we’ve seen that in the results,” she said.

“This will be our biggest game but I know the girls are really excited to be a part of it.”

They are not lacking for Grand Final experience with Saviour Tui, Braxton Te Riini and Dani Gray all having played in the league’s title-deciding match.

But it is not just that extra experience which has been the difference this year with Pirie citing the high bar set for the players’ strength and conditioning as a key to their success.

“I think there is the expectation now to be at a certain level and that has been driven by the standard that (Mystics coach) Helene (Wilson) has set,” she said.

“They’ve got that engine this year and can just keep pushing on.”

She has also been able to rely on a settled line-up for much of the competition which has helped to strengthen combinations throughout the court.

Tui has been a shooting rock in recent weeks for the Marvels while both Gray and Claire O’Brien have had ANZ Premiership court time with the Mystics this season, bringing that experience to the midcourt.

Defensively, Carys Stythe has impressed in the circle with consistent gains for her side including nine when they last played the Comets.

“She’s a bit of a rising star and one to watch,” Pirie said.

The National Netball League Grand Final between the Northern Comets and Northern Marvels will be played at The Trusts Arena in Auckland on Sunday at 2pm, with live coverage on Sky Sport 3.