Contributors – Ian Harkin and Andrew Kennedy
Stars On Top
By Ian Harkin
Round two is done and dusted in the 2021 ANZ Premiership and we have just one undefeated team left standing. The Stars have started the season with two strong wins and sit alone on top of the ladder. Likewise, there is only one team yet to taste victory and that’s a surprise. The Tactix, last year’s grand finalists and one of the top pre-season fancies for this year’s title have started with two resounding defeats. There are no easy wins in the competition this year, so it’s going to be a battle for them to get on the board.
The first match of the weekend saw Northern Mystics open their account for the season with a win over Southern Steel in a high scoring match. Defence went out the window for much of this game as the two spearheads dominated in a 122-goal encounter. English import George Fisher continued her tremendous start in the ANZ Premiership with a perfect 42 from 42 for the Steel. Normally, a flawless shooting display like that would make her the star of the show, but at the other end of the court in this match was Grace Nweke who slotted 56 from 60.
No matter what they tried, Steel couldn’t stop the flow of goals to Nweke, who had already notched 30 to half time. Mystics led 36-27 at that point, and despite Steel winning both the third and fourth quarters, the damage had already been done. In a game of so few turnovers, they couldn’t make up the deficit. Nweke was on the end of a smooth attacking combination; Mes at goal attack, Elisapeta Toeava at wing attack and Tayla Earle at centre. Toeava in particular ran rampant with 43 feeds and 31 goal assists. After two rounds, she already has 63 assists, 14 more than anyone else.
The pinpoint placement of the attacking feeds into the Mystics shooting circle had the Steel defence struggling, despite all the best efforts of Taneisha Fifita who finished with 4 possession gains in three quarters on court. For Mystics to ultimately succeed in 2021, they’ll need to back up this effort and show greater consistency than has been the case in previous seasons. Likewise, Steel will need to build on their performance in coming weeks to show that their opening round win was no fluke.
NORTHERN MYSTICS 64 def SOUTHERN STEEL 58
Nweke 56/60 (93%)
Mes 8/9 (89%)
TOTAL 64/69 (93%)
Assists 59 (Toeava 31)
Gains 5 (Burley 3)
Fisher 42/42 (100%)
Metuarau 16/21 (76%)
TOTAL 58/63 (92%)
Assists 52 (Heffernan 17)
Gains 7 (Fifita 4)
Penalties: Steel 54-50
Turnovers: Steel 19-15
MVP: Kate Burley (Mystics)
Mystics: GS Nweke, GA Mes, WA Toeava, C Earle, WD Ioane, GD Burley, GK Fitzpatrick
Steel: GS Fisher, GA Metuarau, WA Saunders, C Heffernan, WD Savai’inaea, GD Selby-Rickit, GK Fifita
Game two of the weekend saw Tactix trying to get on the board for the season after their shock defeat in round one. Unluckily for them, they had to come up against a rampant Stars team that was in no mood to take things easy. The match was tight in the first half, but from that point on, Stars took control of the game, eventually winning every quarter and not allowing their opponents to find any rhythm or flow.
Tactix has badly missed shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit in the opening two rounds and they’ll be desperately hoping she’s back soon. The team is breaking down in attack, and no matter how much ball their talented backline duo of Watson and Burger is winning for them, they’re squandering it elsewhere. Stars, on the other hand, are sitting pretty, with no obvious weakness in their lineup. Monica Falkner has played little part so far, but that hasn’t mattered as Jamie Hume has grabbed the opportunity of partnering Maia Wilson in the circle, with both hands.
STARS 57 def MAINLAND TACTIX 43
Wilson 40/45 (89%)
Hume 17/20 (85%)
TOTAL 57/65 (88%)
Assists 51 (Reuelu-Buchanan 22)
Gains 15 (Temu 5)
Bird 31/34 (91%)
Prosser 11/14 (79%)
Glen 1/2 (50%)
TOTAL 43/50 (86%)
Assists 41 (Poi 15)
Gains 15 (Burger 6)
Penalties: Stars 47-35
Turnovers: Tactix 27-20
MVP: Gina Crampton (Stars)
Stars: GS Wilson, GA Hume, WA Crampton, C Reuelu-Buchanan, WD Mather, GD Harrison, GK Temu
Tactix: GS Bird, GA Prosser, WA Pedersen, C Poi, WD Elley, GD Burger, GK Watson
Match report – Stars v Tactix
By Andrew Kennedy
With 2020 grand-finalists Tactix coming off a nasty 18-goal loss to Steel, they were on the road again to a confident Stars. There were beautiful solemn ANZAC tributes that made the day poignant for all Kiwi supporters. Silver Fern wing attack Gina Crampton, the new “Star” recruit for Auckland, was playing in her hundredth match, and she fits hand in glove into an otherwise stable attacking lineup from the previous season.
With each team missing a key goal attack in Falkner and Selby-Rickit, it was up to good coaching and a deep bench to bring about victory. Both defence lines were brilliant in hunting ball and switching, and especially Harrison and Burger in bring ball through in attack. In the end it was superior pace and variety in attack of Stars, and disappointing midcourt defence of Tactix that handed the Christchurch team another heavy defeat by 14 goals.
Even with home-ground advantage, Stars were given a tough first half against last year’s second-ranked team. This was in large part due to the chemistry between Tactix defensive duo Burger and Watson, but also from the pressure absorbed by Prosser, replacing veteran Te-Paea Selby-Rickit at goal attack. When Bird was double-teamed, she appeared calm, taking a textbook front space on many occasions or even letting the ball run in. She was costly however. While Prosser managed 87% for the match, her toll of turnovers were around half of the whole Tactix lineup while she was on court.
The issues for Tactix, minor at first but growing, were in the midcourt. Pedersen in particular failed to dominate her spot, caught on long leads and not doing enough preliminary work and dodges until later in the game. When she offered a dodge, it was after 2 seconds and her teammate had looked away. They also tried too hard to play the middle of the court without exploiting swung balls.
Stars showed consistent awareness and urgency, snapping off a safe pass whenever they were awarded a penalty before the opposition regained their heads. They also were able to use the full width and length of the attack third, using quick release and very hard, flat passing, which only improved as the game progressed. This was aided by the poor Tactix midcourt defence, with Poi in particular not taking her part of the team formation and often not even looking at the ball and drifting. She also seemed too keen to get a spectacular intercept at the detriment to locking off her opposing centre.
Bird took a heavy fall early in the second quarter, tripping on the leg of Reuelu-Buchanan. After landing directly on her left elbow she needed several minutes to recover, replaced by Hannah Glen. By the time she came back the Tactix were suddenly down by four goals. They steadied, and trailed only 20-23 at half time.
Into the second half, the Stars zone kept its intensity, as they glued annoyingly to any moving player, confusing the Tactix drives. In contrast, there was great selection and execution of pass from Crampton, never in a rush. The Stars players gave very short but strong drives to the perfect space, and their passes were crisp over any distance.
Stars started to storm out. Harrison was causing havoc with her reach over passes or shots, and Wilson looked unbeatable when she held centre of circle. Variety in attack was a pleasure for Stars, notably the moves of captain Wilson out and Hume bolting to the post for a pass from the goal shooter.
The superior speed and fitness of Stars were on show, with direct play and dynamite transition into attack from an intercept. The only black mark on their card was the very clumsy contact from Harrison when leaping over the shot, giving Prosser a bloody nose. She was replaced by Hannah Glen for the rest of the match. Tactix committed more errors but the more pressing problem was the lack of midcourt defence. Stars continued to push ahead, converting turnovers much more consistently. Hume also took more responsibility for long shots, building to 13/16 at the final whistle.
Another contrast was the two shooters. Bird relied almost solely on height, which allowed Temu and her replacement Maihi at goal defence to challenge quite a lot on the move. Meanwhile Wilson could play a hold in any space, pass accurately with deception, dodge or play up to go back, lead as skipper, and still maintain her high accuracy.
Stars found it more and more easy to draw their players, then fling the ball in triangles or directly across the attacking circle. In the final ten minutes the Aucklanders really drove forward, winning the quarter 18-12. The host team was able to run their entire squad in the 57-43 victory.
The final match of the round saw defending champions Pulse up against Magic, and it was Pulse that came out on top. They were out of the blocks very quickly and thanks to 17/17 from shooter Aliyah Dunn and 11 goal assists from Whitney Souness, they had 20 goals on the board at quarter time. Magic didn’t know what hit them. Up by eight goals after fifteen minutes, Pulse consolidated their lead in the second and third quarters and shut Magic out of the game. Dunn eventually finished with 41/46 in a strong display, while Souness was awarded the MVP.
The combination of Kelera Nawai at goal keeper and Kelly Jury at goal defence has been a revelation so far for Pulse. They had ten possession gains between them, and the sight of 192cm tall Jury with her long arm-span playing goal defence must be giving some opposition attacking lines nightmares. Conversely, Erena Mikaere is the same height, but her stint at goal defence for Magic doesn’t seem to be going as well. She seems far more suited to goal keeper.
Magic missed the normally potent attack of Grace Kara who was hampered by a leg injury and left the court towards the end of the second quarter. To that point, she had just three goal assists, well down on her normal input. As a result, a lot of the midcourt workload fell to captain Sam Winders. She did a creditable job, but lacked support. Magic haven’t as yet found the best way to utilise Australian import Caitlin Bassett. She seems hesitant on occasions, just as they seem hesitant to pass the ball to her. Magic had success in the final quarter when young shooter Khiarna Williams came into her own, often taking advantage of the attention Bassett was attracting from defenders.
In the off-season, Pulse lost a deal of talent and experience and some were tipping them to have a slide down the ladder. But at this early stage, that doesn’t seem likely. They’ve got a well balanced side and they look like being a big threat once again in 2021. For Magic, it’s hoped that the wheels aren’t already starting to fall off at this early stage.
CENTRAL PULSE 59 def WAIKATO-BAY OF PLENTY MAGIC 47
Bassett 23/26 (88%)
Williams 18/20 (90%)
Semple 6/6 (100%)
TOTAL 47/52 (90%)
Assists 41 (Winders 24)
Gains 9 (Edgecomb 3)
Dunn 41/46 (89%)
Amaru-Tibble 16/19 (84%)
Whitney Souness 2/3 (67%)
Ivana Rowland 0/1 (0%)
TOTAL 59/69 (86%)
Assists 52 (Kersten 17)
Gains 11 (Jury 6)
Penalties: Pulse 78-62
Turnovers: Magic 27-23
MVP: Whitney Souness (Pulse)
Pulse: GS Dunn, GA Amaru-Tibble, WA Souness, C Kersten, WD Gordon, GD Jury, GK Nawai
Magic: GS Bassett, GA Semple, WA Kara, C Winders, WD Edgecombe, GD Mikaere, GK Fakahokotau
(after Round 2)
Team / Played / Pts / %
STARS . 2 . 6pts . 118.8%
PULSE . 2 . 4pts . 107.7%
MYSTICS . 2 . 4pts . 101.6%
STEEL . 2 . 3pts . 112.0%
MAGIC . 2 . 3pts . 93.3%
TACTIX . 2 . 0pts . 71.2%
Sunday, May 2
4:15pm – Steel v Pulse
6:15pm – Magic v Stars
Monday, May 3
7:15pm – Mystics v Tactix