The Southern Stings stormed to a 44-33 victory over the Golden Fireballs in their Brutal Fruit Netball League  (NPL) match at the Heartfelt Stadium on Sunday.

The final match of the weekend was probably the most exciting of the opening round of the NPL.  In the first quarter, the two teams exchanged goal for goal, with the Stings grabbing a slender 10-9 lead.

The  star-studded Western Cape side extended their lead to 24-17 in the second quarter, and appeared to have total control over the match.  However, Fireball’s   coach Elsje Jordaan made several changes to strengthen the defence at halftime, and the Gauteng team stormed back into the match, winning the third quarter by 10 goals to seven.  They kept the momentum going into the final quarter, and got within two goals of the Stings.  At that point, Stings coach Annelie Lucas called for a strategic timeout and had stern words for her team, who came back firing on all cylinders.  The Fireballs suddenly appeared flat-footed and the Stings romped to victory.

“I’m not really happy with the way we played today,” said Lucas.

“Elsje is a very good coach, and she didn’t allow our team to play the way they normally do.  Luckily, they were able to pull it together.  We will have plenty to work on when we get back home, and you certainly  haven’t seen the best of us.”

Jordaan said she was pleased with her team, although she was disappointed by the 11-goal defeat.

“I didn’t expect that, but Annelie’s strategic timeout made all the difference.  We were just two goals behind, with our centre pass to come, but after that timeout, we just couldn’t get back,” she said.

“But I was pleased with my team.  The Stings have a number of Proteas – their back line was the World Cup line-up — so I think we did very well against them. I have a number of young and fairly inexperienced players, and this match will do much to give them self-belief.  I was particularly delighted that my goal attack, Chantelle Swart, who is only 19, was named Player of the Match.

“We have a bit of a problem with match fitness, but that will improve as the NPL goes on,” said Jordaan.

“That third quarter was a watershed moment, and will do much to boost their confidence.”

Earlier, the North West Flames got their NPL campaign off to an ideal start, with a comprehensive 68-36 victory over the Eastern Aloes.

Although the Eastern Cape team were first on the scoreboard, the Flames dominated the match throughout.  They led 21-7 after the first quarter and were 39-17 ahead at halftime.

Coach Dorette Badenhorst was very pleased with the way her team performed.

“We have quite a few new players, and many of them are very young,” she said.

“Without the stars, it is very important for us to play as a team.”

Badenhorst said she had played all 12 members of her squad, as it was important for them all to get match experience.

“It’s a long tournament – nine weeks – and we need to make sure that everyone has been exposed to the pressures of playing at this level.  Injuries can happen and so we need to make sure that the bench is ready to step up.”

Flames wing defence Jeante Strydom, who was was named Player of the Match, said the team was very happy to have got off to such a good start.

“It was a very physical match, but we expected that.  But it was a lot of fun, and we are looking forward to the rest of the tournament,” she said.

Aloes coach, Ciske Kirchoff, said her team needed to trust one another .

“We have several new players and everyone needs to settle down and find their rhythm,” she said.

“We lost both matches this weekend – we lost to the Kingdom Stars last night, but it was a real thriller and we learn more every time we go on court.  We’ll take our knocks early on, and we will improve every time we play. “

The NPL continues at the same venue next weekend, with the first match, between the Flames and the Mpumalanga Sunbirds at six o’clock on Friday evening.