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Comets win maiden Netball League title

Northern Comets National Netball League
Northern Comets players celebrate with the National Netball League trophy. PHOTO: DAVE LINTOTT PHOTOGRAPHY

Fourth time was the charm for the Northern Comets as they paid tribute to one of New Zealand netball’s biggest coaching contributors with a maiden National Netball League crown.


The Comets overcame a nervy start to beat the five-time champion Central Manawa 56-51 in the grand final at Porirua's Te Rauparaha Arena on Sunday.


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The Comets finished the regular season on the top of the points table but with three national league finals already under their belt, and no silverware to show for it, knew they could take nothing for granted in what was expected to be a tight tussle.


But it was to be the Comets’ moment as the win was also an opportunity to pay tribute to a netball mentor who had an impact on coaching in New Zealand, Ivy Topping, who passed away this week.


Topping is the mother of Comets manager and former Silver Fern Carron Jerram and grandmother of Marcia Jerram, who played a significant role in the goal defence bib for the victors.


“It’s so cool to see that we’ve been rewarded today for our effort and our mahi today – I’m so proud of our girls," co-captain Abbie Ledger said.



The match promised plenty with just four goals separating the two teams on the two occasions they have met this season – the Comets winning by four in the opening round and a draw played out in Round 6.


Stung by a loss in the last round of the regular season, Manawa showed they meant business causing a held ball from the first pass in play and opening the scoring as Kiana Pelasio shot confidently at range.


The nerves looked all in the Comets camp as simple errors marred their early plays and the hosts raced out to a 4-1 lead.


The defensive pressure applied by Manawa was immense – wing defence Rachel Price menacing with her suffocating play out front and Manawa’s rock at the back, Maddison Thomas, also disrupting the Comets flow.


It only got worse for the visitors with captain Tori Kolose limping off court five minutes into the game with what looked like an ankle niggle.


But the unplanned introduction of experienced attacker Eseta Autagavaia added some stability in their nervy start and, living off the scraps, the Comets were able to stay in touch with the defending champions.


Kolose returned to the action as her team found its rhythm on attack and they would have been happy to go into the break trailing just 13-15.


Northern Comets National Netball League
The Northern Comets got the better of the Central Manawa in the National Netball League grand final. PHOTO: DAVE LINTOTT PHOTOGRAPHY

Within two minutes of the resumption of play the Comets had levelled the scores and showed plenty of confidence with their speed of ball movement around the shooting circle, Jaelin Tulikaki finding great space.


Tulikaki’s feeders also showed great patience as the Comets built on the momentum to go up by five goals by the midway point of the second stanza.


Frustration started to creep into Manawa’s play as their defenders found the attention of the umpires.


Still trailing by five, Manawa made a defensive change in the circle with just under two minutes to play in the half, bringing Zalika Clarke, but still went into the main break down 25-30.


Manawa made another change at the other end of court heading into the third quarter with Sarah Guiney injected at goal attack.


But there was little the hosts could do to stop the march from the Comets looked to have the game by the scruff.


Thomas however was not done for Manawa and a couple of key tips from the defender sparked her side into action and they slashed a seven-goal difference to just three, heading into the last spell down 39-42.

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