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Defending champions hold on for thrilling NNL draw

The National Netball League defending champion Central Manawa have done what no other team has done this season in taking points off the unbeaten Northern Comets, but they will be left wondering how maximum points slipped out of their grasp.

The two teams battled out the first draw of the NNL locking scores 43-43 in Round 6 at Pulman Arena on Sunday afternoon – both sides walking away with two competition points each.

But it took a storming fourth quarter display from the Comets to snatch the draw after Manawa had led for much of the match, including an eight-goal buffer going into the deciding spell.

Manawa captain Colleen Faleafaga believed her side “took the foot off the pedal a bit” in a tense last quarter.

“I think we just dropped and got a bit complacent,” she said.

“It was just about scoring off our centre passes and anything we got on D was just a bonus, but we didn’t do that. They just came out firing.”

The midcourter was however pleased with her team’s ability to weather the storm in the dying minutes of the game to hold on for the draw.

“It’s about fighting until that last second, which we did,” she said.

Comets captain Chonaire Huriwai said her side put themselves in a tough position with their performance in the first three quarters.

“But I’m really proud of the way we came back in that last quarter,” she said.

Despite coming off a bye week, it was the Comets which made the stronger start grabbing a turnover from the first centre pass and opening up a two-goal lead.

But in a frenetic start to the game, it wasn’t long before Manawa found their groove, particularly on attack, to level the scores mid-way through the stanza.

Manawa goal attack Bianca Nagaiya proved the key play-maker early on for the visitors with her drives into the circle and accurate radar while at the other end of the court, ANZ Premiership defender Parris Mason made an impact with three gains.

The defending champions were the first to find their rhythm on attack and they went into the break with a 13-10 advantage.

Coach Anna Andrews-Tasola went to the bench to introduce Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse midcourter Paris Lokotui in the centre role while Comets coach Temepara Bailey also went to the bench adding some height into the shooting circle with Amelia Walmsley coming on for Maine Crystal-Maro.

Stars attacker attacker Amorangi Malesala was also injected not long into the spell as the hosts played catch-up netball.

But a determined Manawa side held strong to go into the main break with a 24-19 lead which they extended in the third quarter despite their Premiership players going to the bench.

Nagaiya was pivotal on attack, shooting 18 from 24 attempts at goal and directing play up front while Abby Erwood stepped up in the absence of Mason, Manawa going into the fourth quarter with what looked like a match-winning 36-28 advantage.

But the Comets were not ready to relinquish their unbeaten run and netted two quick goals after the break to set the tone for a tense fourth spell.

They closed the gap even further and a clean intercept from defender Lisa Putt put the Comets in the box seat with 50 seconds left on the clock. But injury to both the goal defence and influential wing Nadia Loveday saw momentum swing again.

Manawa held their composure to get the ball safely to shooter Grace McLean who netted the goal to level the scores for the final time.

Meanwhile, the Northern Marvels pipped Mainland in the other Round 6 NNL match winning 62-60 in Christchurch on Saturday.