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Central and Mainland primed for title fight

They have gone through the Beko Netball League’s regular season unbeaten but Netball Central coach Natalie Milicich knows the “experienced heads” from Hellers Netball Mainland pose a threat to their title hopes.

Her Central charges head into the grand final as favourites having gone through round-robin play with no blemishes on their record.

“But we all know that what’s happened in 10 games beforehand can count for nothing – it all comes down to one game,” Milicich said.

“It’s really up to us to turn up and show why we’ve got here. We’re very excited to be in this position and confident we can do the job.”

Central’s strengths are across the board from Karin Burger on defence through to mid-court pairing of Kimiora Poi and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, and star shooter Jermaine Howard-Vallance.

Milicich has however been pleased to get 18 players on court this season which she said had been “a real positive for the Zone” ensuring a strong bench has been a part of their driver to their results.

“The growth there has been amazing and while we can’t get 18 players out there in the final the support and competition for places has got us the performances we’ve wanted.”

It will be a big weekend for Burger and Sheridan Bignall who will be in Central’s squad of 10 for the Beko Netball League Grand Final before catching a flight to Invercargill to play in the last round of the ANZ Premiership with the Te Wananga o Raukawa Pulse.

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The close connection Central has had with the Zone’s elite team had played a part in their success so far, Milicich believed.

“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve trained against these guys every week and they’ve shared a lot of knowledge,” she said. “As a Zone the approach has been ‘one big group’ which from my perspective as a coach has been amazing and for the players lots of interaction.”

Despite beating Mainland twice already this year she believed some of their seasoned campaigners would ensure they “can’t be taken lightly”.

“We’ve improved over the campaign but so have they,” she said. “They’ve got experienced heads in there and they’ve come the closest to us on the scoreboard.”

It will be the second grand final for Central after losing to Netball South in the inaugural season last year while for Mainland it is a complete change in fortunes after finishing at the bottom of the ladder in 2016.

Coach Peter McInnes said any game against a classy Central outfit would be tough and they would need to “play to our strengths”.

Shooter Ellie Bird has been one of those strengths and is expected to play in the grand final while defender Sophia Fenwick has picked up plenty of ball on defence for Mainland and mid-courter Chloe Williamson is a vital link through court at centre.

“Central’s attack end is very very sharp and they’ve got a very hand mid-court,” McInnes said. “But we ran them close in our first game with Ellie and have been building with each outing.”

The Beko Netball League Grand Final will be played at The Trusts Arena in Auckland on Sunday with live coverage on SKY Sport 3 from 4pm.