The Mpumalanga Sunbirds recovered from a first-quarter defeat to beat the Kingdom Queens 49-34 in a voracious encounter on day four of the Telkom Netball League Power Week in Polokwane. It took some time for the Sunbirds’ shooters to find their mojo, which gave the Queens a slight edge. The Sunbirds eventually kicked into gear halfway through the first quarter, and it started becoming a battle of intercepts and defensive rebounds. A total of eight intercepts were snatched, five of those went in favor of the Queens who took a two-goal lead.
Tumelo Nkoe (Goal Defense) teamed up with Palesa Mbukwana (Goal Keeper) on defense for the second quarter, and that combination impressed early with Nkoe stealing two consecutive intercepts to move level on fourteen goals. Queens coach Magda Du Plessis called for strategic stoppage time in the latter stages of the quarter to instruct her shooters to stand their ground in the circle.
The Queen’s attack was ineffectual in trying to infiltrate the Sunbirds’ defensive barrier in their goal third, giving away the ball, which the Mpumalanga side profited from through conversions. Even when the ball made it into the circle, the Queen’s shooters continued to be rattled by the colossal pressure that came from Thembi Mdluli side. The last quarter was all about playing catch-up for the KZN team as they were trailing by six goals, but Mbukwana had a different plan. Mbukwana had a field day on the defensive end, clawing on a couple of intercepts to help her side increase their lead and win the game by fifteen goals.
This was the Sunbirds’ first victory after playing to a 32-all draw against the Comets on Thursday, and coach Thembi was elated after her team’s performance: ‘’The reason we had a slow start is because I tried to put a different combination to the winning combination that we normally use. So, even the players I put on court were a bit shaky in the beginning, but that’s why I had to change and put on the most experienced players and the best combination, which gave us a good finish.’’
It was not a good day for the KZN teams overall today. The Kingdom Stars lost their third consecutive game 29-48 against the Free State Crinums this morning. Shooting has been an area of concern for Stars’ coach Precious Mthembu lately, and today was no different. The Stars finished with a fifty-two-goal percentage, having only scored twenty-nine of their fifty-six attempts. Mthembu made some beneficial changes in the second half that completely changed the game. On the defensive end, they put up a decent fight against the Crinums and were able to transition down court smoothly and convert. Despite a dominant finish after winning both the third and fourth quarters, the performance still did not warrant a victory in the end. Refiloe Nketsa was exceptional on Goal Defense for the Crinums and became the first player to earn back-to-back Player of the Match awards this season.
Meanwhile, the defending champions wrapped up the Power Week undefeated following their 63-42 win against the Eastern Cape Aloes. The Aloes, on the other hand, got a taste of what being what being in the top division is like with the three games they played. The Aloes had multiple moments of brilliance in all three matches and were able to challenge the Fireballs in the first and final quarters. Aloes coach Sameisha Esau used these matches as practice for when the league resumes in June and will look to use the break effectively.