By Ian Harkin
Round 14 of the ANZ Premiership was the round that the three playoff teams were decided. Ladder leaders, the Northern Mystics cemented their position on top of the ladder and will now play off in the Grand Final at Spark Arena in Auckland. Meanwhile, second and third placed Mainland Tactix and Southern Steel, both had wins to book their place in the Preliminary Final. If that makes it sound as if the results of round 14 were a mere formality, nothing could be further from the truth. All three games were nail biters that went down to the last minute.
In the opening game of the round, Tactix sealed their place in the top three after a huge fight with Magic. In a topsy-turvy game where both sides took it in turns to win quarters, Magic led by 2 at three quarter time. But they couldn’t hold out the Tactix team which went on a four goal run midway through the final term to go from two behind to two in front. And that was good enough to see them home. It was an unconvincing display from Tactix, who will certainly be looking to improve on this performance heading into finals.
This was one of the best games that Caitlin Bassett has played for Magic this year. Which is no mean feat as she was up against the likely Silver Ferns defensive combination of Jane Watson and Karin Burger. Burger was the star of the show however with eight possession gains, as she picked up her third straight player of the match award in the space of just over a week. Tactix will now come up against Mystics, and depending on the result of Steel’s last game, they may need to win that in order to host the knockout final. Magic has just one more chance to win their second game of a frustrating season. This was the seventh occasion that they’ve taken a bonus point for a loss by five goals or less.
In the second game of the round, Mystics confirmed their status as minor premiers when they defeated Pulse, but not before a crazy finish. Mystics dominated the first quarter, then the next two were shared, so the lead at three-quarter time was seven. That was extended to eight with five minutes to go and Mystics appeared to be coasting to victory. That was when an incredible change came over the game. Completely out of the blue, Pulse piled on seven straight goals before Grace Nweke scored a late sealer, making it a two goal win for a nervous home team.
Goal shooter Nweke scored 93% of her team’s goals and once again, wing attack Elisapeta Toeava took on the prime feeding role with 24 assists. While it has been a team effort, these two players, along with captain and goal keeper Sulu Fitzpatrick, are the major reasons that Mystics find themselves in the final. For Pulse, Maddy Gordon was one of their best in this game. They’ve fallen short in their quest for three straight titles, but this match shows how competitive they’ve been; a good achievement, considering the players they lost this season.
The final game of the round saw Steel seal their place in the top three and snuff out the chances of their opponents, the Stars. This was a close game all night; it was level at quarter time, level at half time, Steel led by two at three quarter time, and despite scoring just three of the last ten goals, they held on in an exciting finish to beat a gallant Stars team by one. For Stars it has been an incredible fall. When they won their first 5 matches, they were riding high, leading the competition by 4 points and people were wondering if anyone could beat them. Surely nobody would have predicted at that stage that they would win just three of their next nine matches and miss the playoffs altogether.
Captain Maia Wilson’s poor recent form has been a part of that slide down the ladder. After scoring just eight goals at 50% last week, she again struggled here with 11 goals at 52%. She was so out of sorts that goal attack Jamie Hume took over the dominant lead role in the circle, and Wilson was eventually replaced by Monica Falkner. Hume was tremendous in this match and almost carried her team to victory. Unfortunately however, she and Falkner both missed with attempts which would have levelled the scores in the final 90 seconds. Another player who stood tall for Stars in this match was Anna Harrison, who repeatedly won ball at the back and created chances for her team.
Steel has a settled team at the moment. Metuarau and Fisher have developed into a great combination, even if they committed a few too many turnovers in this match. Saunders had another great captain’s game at wing attack, while fellow midcourters Kate Heffernan and Renee Savai’inaea both play their roles to perfection. Youngster Taneisha Fifita once again starred in defence alongside a solid Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit. If they win their match in round 15, Steel has a good chance of hosting the elimination final against Tactix. Whatever the case, they will give that game a good shake.
Saturday, July 24
5:15pm – Steel v Pulse
Sunday, July 25
4:15pm – Tactix v Mystics
Monday, July 26
7:15pm – Stars v Magic