Photos by Steve McLeod
A NEW CHAMPION TO BE CROWNED
By Ian Harkin
So, now the stage is set. The ANZ Premiership Grand Final will be contested between the Northern Mystics and the Mainland Tactix at Spark Arena in Auckland. Both sides will be looking for their first ever National League title. Tactix booked their place in the decider after defeating Southern Steel by 5 goals in the Elimination Final in Invercargill last Sunday…
ELIMINATION FINAL: STEEL v TACTIX
This was a strong performance from Tactix who established a big lead in the first half and withstood a Steel second half comeback to win 54-49. It was the second quarter where the match tilted heavily in the favour of the visitors. Under strong defensive pressure, Steel made error after error and were repeatedly punished. In one astonishing stretch of eight and a half minutes, Steel managed to score just one goal while Tactix piled on 11 at the other end, including a run of eight in a row.
Fresh from being named Netball Scoop’s ANZ Premiership MVP, Karin Burger turned in another stellar effort in defence for Tactix; six possession gains, four intercepts, five deflections, one rebound and one pickup. In the second quarter, it was Burger who came up with crucial ball that helped her team take a commanding lead.
It was great credit to Steel for not giving up at this point. They were a different side after half time. Captain Shannon Saunders had 10 goal assists in the second half, compared to just three in in the first. Likewise star shooter, George Fisher doubled her first half haul of 13 goals with 26 in the second half. Roared on by a vociferous home crowd, they got as close as four goals in the final period, but the damage had already been done by that disastrous second quarter.
For Tactix, this was a genuine team effort. They didn’t have a poor player. Midcourters Samon Nathan and Kimiora Poi combined for 39 assists, while Charlotte Elley was tremendous in defence, joining with Burger and captain Jane Watson to stifle the Steel attack. Up front, the combination of Ellie Bird and Te Paea Selby-Rickit capitalised on the chances they were given, especially in the first two quarters.
With the final in mind, no doubt Tactix would have liked to have finished the game stronger. They’d be disappointed that they let Steel back into the game after setting up such a big lead. On the other hand, Steel will be wondering what could have been. But it has been a wonderful season for the team from the South, and with news that Fisher has already signed on again, their future looks bright for 2022.
GRAND FINAL: NORTHERN MYSTICS vs MAINLAND TACTIX
HOW THEY GOT HERE:
Mystics had an inauspicious start to the 2021 ANZ Premiership. They were defeated by Magic 64-60 in their opening game. As it turned out, that would be Magic’s one and only win for the season and they finished at the bottom of the ladder. Mystics quickly turned things around however. They went on to win 11 games in all, and picked up vital bonus points in all four defeats. They reached the top of the ladder in round 11 when they defeated previous leaders, the Stars, and they maintained that position for the rest of the home and away season, thus clinching the minor premiership and a guaranteed spot in the Grand Final.
Tactix got off to an even worse start than Mystics did. With goal attack Te Paea Selby-Rickit missing for the first two games, they lost both badly. They then lost a thriller to Mystics, and found themselves on the bottom of the ladder, before finally getting a win on the board in round four. After their poor start, Tactix spent much of the season playing catch up and battling it out for a spot in the top three. Their place in the playoffs was only sealed in round 14, before a loss in the final round saw them having to travel to Invercargill to play Steel in the Elimination Final, a challenge they overcame well.
POSSIBLE STARTING LINEUPS:
Mystics made a big change to the starting seven for their last game of the regular season. Having started Bailey Mes at goal attack in all previous games, Filda Vui was given the start. Admittedly, Mes and Vui play the role differently, but it can’t be denied that Vui was very impressive, as she has been all season when coming on as a replacement. Notably, it was also against Tactix. Will she be given the start again or will coach Helene Wilson defer to Mes’s much greater experience. Possibly the latter. The rest of the team looks settled.
Tactix has had a stable starting seven ever since round ten, and it has proven to be a successful one, winning six out of seven games in that time. Erikana Pedersen and Sophia Fenwick have both played effective roles coming off the bench, but the seven listed below is likely to be the one that coach Marianne Delaney-Hoshek chooses to line up with for the opening whistle.
Mystics’ strength this year is no secret. Young shooter Grace Nweke has proven to be almost unstoppable at times and when teamed up with the flair of wing attack Peta Toeava, it has been a winning combination. Nweke has scored easily the most goals in the competition and Toeava has racked up the most assists. Another strength of this Mystics team is the leadership and composure of Sulu Fitzpatrick in defence. She has been as solid as a rock all season. The rest of the team is very well balanced and all play their roles well. One possible weakness is at goal attack. While Bailey Mes has all the experience, she has been very reluctant to shoot in recent matches. On the other hand, Filda Vui shows no such reluctance but will she be found out under the pressure of a grand final?
Tactix has a strong all round team, but most people will consider their major strength to be in defence. Boasting the likely Silver Ferns defensive combination in captain Jane Watson and Karin Burger, they have successfully shut down the opposition in numerous games this year. And they’re superbly backed up by Charotte Elley at wing defence. Together, they have won so much ball, but one of the team’s problems has been an inability to convert those gains into goals. But that is improving. Ellie Bird at goal shooter has come on enormously this year, and while not as prolific as Nweke, she has been just as reliable. Te Paea Selby-Rickit’s general play has been terrific but her shooting accuracy has been a problem at times this season. She will be hoping to shoot well in the big one.
As mentioned above, the strengths of these teams are seen as the Mystics attack and the Tactix defence. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. In the three previous clashes this year, Mystics have done a great job in taking the defence, and particularly Karin Burger, out of the equation. Burger averages 6.5 possession gains per game against all other teams, but only 2 per game against Mystics. And just to show how effectively this has played out, in our Netball Scoop MVP voting, Burger only failed to poll votes in 3 of the 15 games this year. Those three games just happened to be the three games she played against Mystics! Can we perhaps see a different approach from Burger and Tactix to bring her into the game more?
Rd 3 – Mystics just held off a fast finishing Tactix team 53-52, with Grace Nweke eventually scoring the winning goal in the very last second of the game.
Rd 5 – Tactix surged late, an Ellie Bird shot in the dying seconds sending the game to extra time, then they capitalised on an error to snatch the win 64-63.
Rd 15 – Mystics set up a dominant lead in the first half, but once again had to withstand a Tactix second half comeback as they held on to win 63-59.
These are the collective stats from the three matches between these teams this year. There are some interesting ones here. You can see the effectiveness of Mystics’ game plan in shutting the Tactix defence out of the game with only 20 gains in three matches, a very low number for them. And one absolute constant through all three games was the time in possession. Only 44% for Mystics compared to 56% for Tactix. This shows the strength of Nweke for Mystics and the ability to find her quickly.
NORTHERN MYSTICS v MAINLAND TACTIX
Spark Arena, 3:30pm (1:30pm AEST, 4:30am UK)
In NZ, you can watch the match on Sky or Prime.
If you’re outside NZ, you can watch the match through https://netballnz.streamamg.com/
Good luck to both teams. Hopefully, it’s a great game.