Steelers win Trans-Tasman series with eye on player development

by Jill Scanlon

The Australian Steelers have defeated the New Zealand Wheelblacks in a five match series, retaining the Ken Sowden Cup by winning four of the five games in Christchurch.

The Aussies went to the tournament at the weekend with a slightly different line-up to that of the Paralympic Gold medal winning squad, looking to develop emerging talent.

The opportunity for development was applied to coaching as well as player ranks, with regular assistant coach Greg Smith taking the reins for this series.

Smith was impressed with what he saw from some of the players.“We’ve had some really good performances from our two high pointers - Matt Lewis and Jayden Warn have both played really well,” he said.

“We’ve also been able to get more time into our athletes who don’t see the court very often.”

While Smith admitted he was disappointed not to get the clean sweep, he was still pleased overall with what had been an impressive series result.

“It’s about giving all of our guys more international experience and that’s what we have been able to do,” he said.

Rookie sensations Jake Howe (4) from WA and Ben Leaudais (12) from NSW. Photo: FacebookAndrew Harrison took on the captaincy duties and Smith said he carried that responsibility well.

"He’s done really well. He has stepped up and taken on the captaincy better than we probably thought he would," said Harrison.

"This competition allows us to still compete and to aim and set goals that will run us through to World Championships next year by being able to bring away athletes who wouldn’t normally get lots of court time and lots of development," he said.

The Steelers head to Japan at the end of April for a series against Japan and the USA, the two other teams which make up the top three in the world.

Later this year the Asia/Oceania Championship will take place in New Zealand.

That regional tournament acts as a qualifier for the 2018 World Championships.

Despite Australia having already qualified for 2018 through their success in Rio, the coaches are looking at that tournament to develop more players.

“It’s another opportunity to put more time into some younger athletes and help develop them towards World Champs and then Tokyo 2020,” Smith said.

With such a busy international calendar coming up the strategy of getting as much development and experience into more players is proving to be a successful one.


Ken Snowden Cup, Christchurch, New Zealand

Game 1: NZL 40– 53 AUS

Game 2: NZL 54 – 58 AUS (OT2)

Game 3: NZL 40 – 57 AUS

Game 4: NZL 53 – 51 AUS

Game 5: NZL 31 - AUS 61

Australia win Ken Snowden Cup series 4-1.