In a critical round five match-up, both the ONEPURE Wolves and HUAWEI Dragons needed to secure the win to stay in contention for the finals of the LEARNCOACH New Zealand Badminton League. The tie did not disappoint as both teams fought tooth and claw for the valuable league points.
The Dragons made a fast start as the mixed combination of Dylan Soedjasa and Alyssa Tagle finally fired to dispatch Josh Feng and Anona Pak in quick fashion 11-7, 11-7. With the momentum on their side, Oscar Guo took the court in the men's singles and accelerated their winning pace with a convincing performance over Feng, scoring rapid-fire points to claim victory in just eleven minutes. The women’s singles was a closer affair with the Wolves' Catelyn Rozario going toe to toe with rising star Shaunna Li in search of her first win. Li was too strong in the end, pulling away to close out the match 11-8, 11-7 and give the Dragons a commanding 3-0 lead.
With the tie perilously in the balance the wolfpack responded with a strong performance from Oliver Leydon-Davis and Evan Wong to win the men’s doubles. Leydon-Davis, fresh off a confidence boosting win against the plucky presenters from 'The Crowd Goes Wild’ sports show earlier in the week, found his form to lead the pair over the continually improving Adam Jeffrey and Soedjasa. With the tie on the line, it was the first match of the night to go to three games and the pressure was palpable.
Undefeated Pak and Roanne Apalisok then took the court as favourites in the women’s doubles against the youngest combination in the league. Li and Ashley Tan showed tremendous fight in an effort to close out the tie and take the win, but the Wolves would not be denied, taking the match and staying alive.
Soaking up the pressure of must win matches, the Wolves continued confidence paid off as Leydon-Davis came back on court and picked up where he left off. Apalisok continued her impressive form and it was needed as Guo and Li didn’t give an inch. With the match going down to the wire, the Wolves eventually got a nose ahead to secure a 12-10 win in the third and force a golden game.
All eyes switched to the coaches to determine the fate and the chance to reach the league finals with the selection of the golden game. Rikke Olsen-Siegemund won the coin toss and with the last elimination, choose the women’s doubles as the decider for the tie. The Wolves had no hesitation in bringing back Pak and Apalisok as their combination, while the Dragons looked for the winning answer in a fresh combination of Li and Tagle. The Dragons' new partnership took a little while to warm up and fell behind 6-10 before saving four consecutive tie-points to lock it up at 10-10. Beautiful badminton played over long rallies with excitement and incredible athleticism captivated a record-setting international livestream audience. A drama-filled final two points was enough for the Wolves to finally prevail and complete their epic comeback win.
The result keeps the OnePure Wolves hopes alive, with a crucial clash against the HeyTour Hawks next week to decide which team will meet the Tiger Brokers Tigers in the grand final. Meanwhile for the Huawei Dragons, their NZBL campaign is all but over, with a top-two finish now out of reach.
Crystal Ashley MVP, Anona Pak, said it best: "with it being so quick, we had to reflect on what we’d done before, correct it, and put it all out on the court.”
Full match details: Huawei Dragons vs OnePure Wolves