Photo: Tayla Earle (Mystics) – by Steve McLeod
ROUND 15 SUMMARY
By Ian Harkin
With the three playoff teams having already been decided and Mystics locked in for the big one, the only thing left to do was find out which team would host the Elimination Final. First up, it was Steel as they looked to win and put the pressure on Tactix. And this they duly did, but not before a tough battle with Pulse, the champions of the past two years. Steel maintained the lead throughout the game, and they seemed to be coasting to victory when they stretched the margin to eight goals during the last quarter. That was before a sudden change came over the game. Through a serious of turnovers, Pulse piled on goal after goal, and ate into the margin. They ran out of time however and Steel held on by two goals.
Once again, George Fisher provided a great target up front. She has proven to be a smash hit this season, both in terms of performance, and also her popularity with Steel fans. She combined well again with young goal attack Tiana Metuarau. This partnership has blossomed over the course of the season. Kate Heffernan also put in a fine performance at centre. It was a good all round game from Pulse, but as has been the case so often this season, they were just lacking that absolute star player to produce something special and get them over the line. After losing so much talent from last year’s team, they will be looking to recruit strongly in the offseason.
With Steel doing all they could and taking the three competition points on Saturday, they then had to wait for the result of Sunday’s game. Tactix needed to beat Mystics to take hosting rights for the Elimination Final, but by half time, that was looking highly unlikely. In a frantic period of less than seven minutes during the second quarter, Mystics went on astonishing 10 goals to one run, to go from dead level to nine goals up. Although the home side recovered and narrowed the gap, the win was out of their reach and Mystics held on to win by four.
Mystics made an interesting change in this game, with Filda Vui starting at goal attack for the first time this season. In previous games, Bailey Mes had been the starting GA with Vui replacing her in the second half. The difference in their shooting output was noticeable. Vui shot 11/13 in the first half, while Mes finished with just 1/1 after playing the whole second half. While these stats aren’t everything, there’s a big difference there. Mystics won the first half and lost the second, so could it be a pointer to the grand final?
An interesting comparison to come out of the match was the possession gains. Tactix could only muster seven compared to Mystics’ 13. Mystics have fine-tuned their attacking game plan to such a degree now that the opposition’s defence is almost left out of the picture. Turnovers of possession are usually self-inflicted rather than through brilliant defence.
It’s interesting to note that the combination of Karin Burger and Jane Watson who have been so successful this year against other teams, haven’t made a huge impact against Mystics. In a telling statistic, Burger has totalled just 6 possession gains in the three clashes with Mystics this season, whereas she has averaged 6.5 gains per game against everyone else.
Mystics now go on to the Grand Final, and look to have an undeniable chance of winning the first title in their history. For Tactix to have a chance at winning their first, they will have the unenviable task of travelling to Invercargill and defeating the Steel on their own court.
With the playoff picture settled, you could have been forgiven for thinking the final match of the round was unimportant. But not so. It was one last chance for both Stars and Magic to redeem themselves after what were disappointing seasons for both (for different reasons).
Unfortunately for Magic, they really didn’t show up and turned in probably their worst performance of the whole year. It was a bad way to go out for a team that was filled with such optimism in the preseason. Star Australian recruit Caitlin Bassett has had some strong games, but in general, she’s found it hard to settle in. There is no doubt she has been affected by a niggly knee injury, while some of the feeding to her has been poor. Some of the other big name players also had recurring injuries and general fitness issues and that has undoubtedly held the team back.
The final margin in this game was 19 goals and it could have been even greater but for an inaccurate shooting performance from Stars who had an incredible 95 attempts. The most inaccurate was once again captain Maia Wilson. It is perplexing to see just what has happened to Wilson’s game in the past three matches. As recently as round 12, she scored 44 goals at 87%, but in rounds 13 to 15 combined, she has scored just 36 goals from 66 attempts at 55%.
In the end, poor shooting statistics didn’t matter for Stars as their defence end won so much ball. The ageless Anna Harrison tallied up an unbelievable 13 possession gains, while youngster Elle Temu had eight of her own. In all the disappointment over Stars missing out on finals after their great start, it has probably gone unnoticed by many that they actually finished the regular season with the same number of wins as Tactix. They also had a better percentage. In other words, it was purely and simply bonus points that saw them miss out on playing finals.
ELIMINATION FINAL – STEEL v TACTIX
Invercargill, Sunday, August 1
4:20pm (2:20pm AEST, 5;20am UK)