Netball: Stingrays beat defending champions Dolphins 51-49 in nail-biting NSL opener

Sneakers Stingrays' Toh Kai Wei (far right) and Blaze Dolphins' Yew Shu Ning battling for the ball during the opening match of the Deloitte Netball Super League 2023. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE – Realising the importance of mental preparation after her debut Deloitte Netball Super League (NSL) season in 2022, Sneakers Stingrays shooter Rebecca Leong implemented a pre-game routine to help her stay focused throughout a game.

The drill, which has been tweaked throughout the year, includes shooting practice the moment she reaches the game venue, visualising her movements on court and a mental pep-talk.

A year on, the hard work paid off as she played a key role in helping her team secure a comeback 51-49 victory against defending champions Blaze Dolphins in the opener of the Netball Super League (NSL) on Saturday. 

Down seven points with 15 minutes left, Leong converted eight of 10 attempts in the last quarter, including the goal that gave her team the lead with four minutes to go, to avenge the Stingrays’ loss to the Dolphins in the 2022 final. 

Leong, 21, said: “I didn’t take notice of the score and was just focused on what I could do to contribute to the team. It’s most important to fall back to the basics, be focused and unaffected by pressure.”

Captain Eyu Yan Yan credited the victory to the team spirit and unwavering conviction despite trailing. The defender said: “Going into the last quarter, we went in with that same belief that we haven’t played to our potential and when we play to our potential, we can take the win.

“I’m very proud of the team for believing in each other every step of the way until the very last whistle was blown.”

In front of a crowd of about 100 at Our Tampines Hub, the Dolphins raced to a 4-0 lead and looked to be in a good position to continue last season’s unbeaten streak. 

The Stingrays did well to recover in the initial stages to tie the first quarter 13 apiece, but they were unable to sustain their momentum in the next quarter, scoring just 67 per cent of their attempts while the Dolphins scored 88 per cent to lead 27-21.

The Dolphins took a 41-35 lead at the start of the last quarter, but were eventually let down by their unforced errors. Key interceptions from Eyu and sharp shooting from Leong and Amandeep Kaur Chahal saw the Stingrays outscore their opponents 16-8 in the final period to snatch the win.

Sneakers Stingrays captain Eyu Yan Yan (left) challenges Blaze Dolphins’ Laura Low during the opener. The Stingrays came from behind to win 51-49. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Goal shooter Lee Pei Shan’s 1.86m frame gave her an edge over the Stingrays’ defenders as she calmly converted 29 out of 33 attempts in the circle, but that was not enough for the defending champions. 

At the final whistle, the Stingrays’ bench and their supporters erupted into cheers as Amandeep, 22, shed tears of joy and relief. 

The sport science and management undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University said the win was a morale booster, but the team should continue to work on improving their communication.

Stingrays coach Goh Seck Tuck was not satisfied with the performance and said his players should have started the game strong. 

“We were hesitant in our attacks and players often chose to give up passing at the first (possible) timing, giving our opponents more time to react. 

“But the Dolphins are the defending champions, so beating them is a big objective and this win will definitely raise morale and confidence.”

Sneakers Stingrays’ Angelina Lim celebrates her side’s 51-49 win over defending champions Blaze Dolphins. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Dolphins co-captain Khor Ting Fang, 26, said a short preparation season and lack of fitness made it hard for the team to match up to the intensity of their opponents. 

She added: “This is only the start. Ultimately it’s a new season – our coach always says (things like being) the defending champions, that all happened last season. 

“We hope that this is a good base for us to keep building as we move forward.”

In the other matches, Llabten Narwhals fell 52-45 to the Swifts Barracudas in their first NSL appearance since 2020, while Fier Orcas defeated Mission Mannas 58-29.

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