Robinhood Stars coach Kiri Wills has experienced almost every emotion possible while at the helm of her ANZ Premiership side. 

It’s her sixth season in charge and in that time, Wills has led the Stars to two ANZ Premiership grand finals, where they’ve fallen short on both occasions.  

The 2022 season was another severely disrupted by schedule changes in amongst the uncertainty of a Covid-19 conundrum, but the Stars hung tough throughout and earned a spot in the decider against the Pulse in Wellington.  

The Stars were outplayed on that day, but fast forward to season 2023 and the finals series is upon us and in an almost full circle moment it’s the Pulse who will stand between the Stars and a place in another grand final when the two sides contest the elimination final on Sunday in Wellington. 

Seven players from the squad who experienced heartbreak against the Pulse remain and with some handy additions to the roster since, Wills believes her team have learnt a lot from the past.    

“I think we’re a much more mentally strong team than we were at finals time last year. 2022 was crazy with the rescheduling and number of games we had to play at the back end of the season. A short turnaround into the final didn’t help us at all mentally for a team that does play very differently defensively to the rest of the competition. This time we’ve got a good amount of time to prepare for the Pulse both physically and mentally.” Wills said. 

In one of the most tightly contested ANZ Premiership seasons, the Stars had to make every game count to sneak into third spot on the competition ladder. The Stars finished the regular season with nine wins, six losses and three crucial bonus points to fend off a late season lunge from the fourth placed Tactix. 

Wills says it’s a privilege to be in the finals series, with some quality sides missing out. 

“For the Mystics, Pulse and us to push through and get the results when needed was hard work. I think this has prepared us well for the elimination final as we’ve had to grind through some massive games. If we didn’t win the double extra time game against the Mystics we’d now be behind the Tactix on the competition ladder. I wasn’t very comfortable on Monday night because I did think the Tactix could cause an upset against the Mystics. I’m very relieved and it’s so good to be here.” Wills added. 

The Stars and Pulse have met three times this season, with both teams enjoying a comfortable win each, before the Pulse edged the Stars in their most recent outing. 

Wills isn’t focusing on past results and is buoyed by the Stars having a fully fit squad of players to choose from when it matters most. 

The team has had to do a lot of specific work on breaking down the Pulse which started early in the week. 

“They have a different skillset on attack to what we usually play against. We need to be patient and know they’ll have their hands on us and on the ball and they’re going to physically be trying push us off the line of the ball. We’ve got to be strong, patient and do the simple things well and the rest of the game will take care of itself. Wills explained. 

“Finding their weaknesses in the attack end and how we exploit them is what we’re looking at. The biggest thing for us is making sure we maintain our connections; they do try to separate us and the key is going to be sticking together.” 

While it’s difficult being away from the comforts of home and heading into a hostile environment. The Stars know they’ll have the unwavering support of their fans wherever they are watching the game – something Wills is grateful for and will use as motivation.  

“Our message to the Stars whānau is we’re here to win and we will fight for every single ball that’s on the court, whether it’s on attack or defence we will be fighting for it and look to make our supporters proud.” 

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