Auckland’s ANZ Premiership showdown promises to be epic
Shane Wenzlick / Photosport
The Stars needed more time to squeeze past the Tactix on Monday. They will face their crosstown rivals, the Mystics, on Sunday.
NOTICE: The intermediate stage of the ANZ Premiership has arrived and the race for the top three places is intensifying. BRENDON EGAN reviews the main talking points ahead of this weekend’s crucial round of games.
Battle of Auckland
If the Trusts Stadium isn’t full on Sunday, something is wrong. Auckland’s two premier teams, the Mystics and the Stars, face off in a table-top battle, which should be an intriguing spectacle. The Stars haven’t been as skilled in the past fortnight as their first five games, but have found a way to strike back and beat the Tactix in an overtime thriller on Monday. Known historically for their inconsistency, the Mystics were well below their best in a disappointing 63-58 loss to the Steel and will be determined to make amends. The Mystics were sorely missed by center Tayla Earle, who was sidelined after a blow to the head in practice. The game between Stars captain and goal shooter Maia Wilson and Silver Ferns teammate and Mystics goalie Sulu Fitzpatrick is just one of many fascinating positional matches.
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Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua recently said Thing deciding on their midcourt contingent later this year is going to be a tough one. Some very good netball players will be missing. The Fougeres are looking to build up their depth in shooting and defense circles after several retirements and downtime over the past 18 months, but the midfielder is full of talented names. Gina Crampton, Claire Kersten, Sam Winders, Shannon Saunders, Kimiora Poi, Whitney Souness and Maddy Gordon were the Ferns’ intermediaries for the Constellation Cup in March. It would be a surprise if there were a lot of changes from that for international games later in the year, with Souness probably under the most pressure to hold onto her spot. Mystics wing attack Peta Toeava and Steel wing defense Kate Heffernan stood out in the first seven rounds, but it will be tough to break through.
Has the Tactix become too sophisticated?
The Tactix probably wish they could play their last game in regulation against the Stars on Monday. With a score equal to 51-51, the Rouge et Noir tried to slow down the clock of their last possession to get the last shot and deprive the Stars of another crack. They passed the ball like a ‘stay away’ game, but wasted too much time getting the ball into the shooting zone. Te Paea Selby-Rickit managed to shoot, but it was a hasty and unsuccessful attempt, sending the game into overtime. The Stars ended up taking the win, winning 57-56 in a cliffhanger. If the Tactix miss the final because of it, they’ll kick each other.
Did the Magic miss a turn?
On a five-game losing streak, you can’t fault Magic coach Amigene Metcalfe for shuffling his seven starts and creating a surprise in the shot against the Pulse. Metcalfe went with the usual wing attack Grace Kara in the attack on goal alongside Australian shooter Caitlin Bassett – no doubt to provide a strong feeding presence for Bassett. Even when the game slipped in the second half and Kara was shooting under 50 percent (she finished 6/14 at 43 percent), the Magic refused to go to her bench. Shooter Khiarna Williams has been impressive for the Magic this season and looks like a future Silver Fern. The Magic need to throw Bassett and Williams and push Kara off the wing attack to give themselves the best chance of ending their six-game losing streak.
Tightest season yet?
With just four points separating the second Mystics and fifth Tactix, you can’t accuse the ANZ Premiership of being boring this season. The remaining eight laps will be fierce as the teams scramble for the top three places in the final. The top qualifier automatically advances to the Grand Final and earns hosting rights, offering a massive incentive. Even the Stars, who won their first five games, have shown they can be knocked down, losing to the Pulse, then rallying an eight-goal deficit in the second quarter to win in overtime against the Tactix.
Saturday 5:15 p.m .: Tactix v Pulse at Christchurch Arena, Christchurch
Sunday 4:15 p.m .: Steel v Magic at Edgar Center, Dunedin
Sunday 6:15 p.m .: Mystics v Stars at Trusts Arena, Auckland
Points after the seventh round: Stars 18, Mystics 15, Pulse 12, Steel 12, Tactix 11, Magic 5
Stuff MVP leaders:
10 points: Gina Crampton (stars), Elle Temu (stars)
9 points: Grace Nweke (Mystics)
8 points: Maia Wilson (stars)
7 points: George Fisher (Steel), Shannon Saunders (Steel)
6 points: Anna Harrison (Stars), Peta Toeava (Mystiques), Karin Burger (Tactix)