By Ian Harkin
Round five of the ANZ Premiership saw competition leaders Stars retain their unbeaten record and Tactix and Mystics play out an absolute thriller. Meanwhile there was a sense of deja vu about the other result. In the opening game of the round, Steel defeated Pulse 56-52, exactly the same score they had beaten the defending champions by in their round three clash just a fortnight earlier. A run of five straight Steel goals two-thirds of the way through the first quarter had the visitors up 14-9. From there they were never headed, despite Pulse drawing level on two occasions. On both occasions Steel held firm, including another run of five goals in the third quarter.
Incredible shooting accuracy (52/54) from Pulse allowed them to stay right in the match, but in the end, it was the more efficient midcourt of Steel which held sway. Captain Shannon Saunders led by example at wing attack with 23 assists, one gain and just one turnover. Along with centre Kate Heffernan, Saunders was able to provide the Steel shooters with consistent opportunities. English import George Fisher made more unforced errors than in earlier rounds, but was still a dominant figure up front, and her combination with Tiana Metuara continues to flourish.
For Pulse, their best was captain Claire Kersten. Her team now finds themselves in the unfamiliar position of second from the bottom and struggling to gain any momentum. With the recent confirmation that Ameliaranne Ekenasio will take no part this year due to pregnancy, it’s hard to see exactly where they go from here, but they will have to make the best of the situation. Te Amo Amoru-Tibble has done a good job as Ekenasio’s replacement, but it’s not quite the same as having the Ferns’ skipper in the lineup.
SOUTHERN STEEL 56 def CENTRAL PULSE 52
Dunn 39/40 (98%)
Amaru-Tibble 13/14 (93%)
TOTAL 52/54 (96%)
Assists 49 (Kersten 18)
Gains 9 (Nawai 4)
Fisher 44/49 (90%)
Metuarau 12/14 (86%)
TOTAL 56/63 (89%)
Assists 49 (Saunders 23)
Gains 7 (Heffernan 3)
Penalties: Steel 65-63
Turnovers: Pulse 23-19
MVP: Kate Heffernan (Steel)
Pulse: GS Dunn, GA Amaru-Tibble, WA Souness, C Kersten, WD Gordon, GD Jury, GK Nawai
Steel: GS Fisher, GA Metuarau, WA Saunders, C Heffernan, WD Savai’inaea, GD Selby-Rickit, GK Fifita
Game two of the weekend saw Tactix host Mystics. When these teams met two weeks earlier in Auckland, Mystics won an enthralling contest with a goal in the very last play of the game. If anything, this game was even better. In a topsy-turvy contest, first one side held sway, then the other. The visitors got on top late in the third quarter, and appeared to gain some sort of control early in the last quarter when they found themselves up 50-45. But there was no counting out Tactix in this game. In a tense struggle, they slowly but surely clawed their way back.
With 12 seconds left in the match, Grace Nweke scored what appeared likely to be the winning goal. But enter Tactix shooter Ellie Bird. Receiving the ball just inside the circle with time almost up, she simply had no option but to turn and quickly put up a shot. And she landed it, sparking incredible scenes as the game was sent into extra time. Once again, Mystics seemed to have the upper hand for most of the two periods of three minutes, until a crucial breaking call went against Mystics’ shooter Bailey Mes. This allowed the home side to firstly equalise, then look for the winner.
Tactix tried to play the ball around in their attack end, so as not to give Mystics a chance to respond, but in doing so, they cut things rather fine, eventually scoring the winning goal with just four seconds left. It was an amazing game, and perhaps the win that kickstarts things for them. Ellie Bird continues to grow as a player this season. Will that long range goal to send the game into extra time, prove to be a defining moment for her and the team. At the other end, Grace Nweke dominated once more with an incredible 59/63.
MAINLAND TACTIX 64 def NORTHERN MYSTICS 63 (after E.T)
Bird 44/53 (83%)
Selby-Rickit 20/29 (69%)
TOTAL 64/82 (78%)
Assists 53 (Nathan 23)
Gains 4 (Watson 2)
Nweke 59/63 (94%)
Mes 4/9 (44%)
TOTAL 63/72 (88%)
Assists 56 (Toeava 23)
Gains 6 (Fitzpatrick 3)
Penalties: Mystics 53-47
Turnovers: Mystics 18-15
MVP: Sulu Fitzpatrick (Mystics)
Match report – Tacitx v Mystics
By Andrew Kennedy
The round three clash between these proud teams was a single goal victory to Mystics, setting the scene for toughly-contested revenge for the hosts. Round five 2021 was Heritage Round in the ANZ Premiership, and many of the past Cantabrian players formed a proud guard of honour pre match for the current Tactix squad to march on through, then at half time wearing their inspiring past Tactix dresses. All the support of the retired athletes and the crowd would be vital in this cliffhanger match where both starting sevens played every minute. No team led by more than five and the lead changed six times. A fine long shot from Tactix’s Ellie Bird in the last three seconds of the fourth quarter pushed the match into overtime, and the home side found themselves in front at the right time, winning 64-63.
Grace Nweke hauled in more than 50 goals for the fourth time this season, at 94%. The teenage Mystics sensation has such height and length of arm, combined with good elevation for an athlete her size, such that she commands the space directly above in a unique and unbeatable way. Her feeders have such confidence in the take that balls rain in on the first second and from all distances and angles. Nweke missed four shots but got six rebounds, effectively shooting above 100%!
Both teams mostly played with patience with the ball in hand, using short connections and resets to not offer up easily read passes. The total interceptions across both teams was a mere three, and both teams had less than 20 turnovers, a fine statistic to take home. The flip side of these figures is that the defenders largely weren’t disrupting the attacking patterns of the opposition.
The feeders on both sides, too, were very sharp in finding any height mismatches and pegging the ball in immediately, and showed understanding of the way their shooters wanted the ball placed.
For the victors, Ellie Bird’s economical movement was a nice feature, when she did it early to draw Fitzpatrick away. The roll and the cut through both Mystics defenders was especially clever – it was better than trying a dodge when stuck on the baseline. She benefited from the excellent court craft of veteran Te Paea Selby-Rickit, who often claimed the central corridor and used double and triple plays to make safe passage to a shot. This led to a very unbalanced statistic – Tactix had 100 feeds for 53 goal assists at 53% success for scoring; whereas 73% of Mystics feeds resulted in a goal.
You can never overlook the stunning and entertaining combination of Jane Watson and Karin Burger for Tactix. They operate with total understanding of switching players, and their speed, instincts and tenacity caused a lot of rushed or poor feeds from Mystics, especially from wing attack Elisapeta Toeava. The Tactix midcourt defence was also superior to Mystics, giving Watson and Burger a good look at the Mystics structure.
Mystics captain Sulu Fitzpatrick is fitter than ever and becoming more inspirational in her leadership role. Her key talent in this match was reading the pass to Bird and deciding early to attack anything that was a placed lazily.
What needs improvement?
Even after a good game, Tactix still have plenty to analyse. The strength and variety on the catch from Bird was inadequate, as Fitzpatrick challenged it frequently. Bird has little elevation so the favoured ball is to a stretch in the backspace with one hand, and it is vulnerable. Selby-Rickit had accuracy of only 69% which is disappointing for a fixture Silver Fern, potentially a symptom of coming back from injury. She shot 11/14 in the first half but 9/15 in the second and extra time, belying her lack of match fitness, and susceptibility to the intimidating Mystics defence of the shot.
The Mystics can be steadier in their feeds in the opening of each quarter especially the first. It seemed like they wanted to impress their coach and win the game in just 15 minutes, and it lead to embarrassing errors. They also need to get better input and accuracy from Mes, who had only 14 goal assists and a score of 4/9 at 44%. She took a lot of centre passes and hovered away from the circle, and when she did drive front it didn’t lead to a safe shot or to an open circle often enough.
Regarding the officiating, whilst unbiased and consistent, the umpires missed constant obstruction all over the court. It bordered on impossible to see two players who were not wrapping around or feeling for each other. This was particularly evident when a goal shooter was on the move and the goal keeper raised the arm to block for the whole movement.
Where Was It Won?
The balance was in small moments, inches, luck, and critical choices. Bird turning quickly at the end of 60 minutes to shoot truly and gift her team extra time seemed lucky, but she followed it up with a lean-back long shot in extra time to prove her skill. The Mystics had a couple of disappointing moments, with a good shot from Nweke falling one second after extra time 1 finished and discounted. But perhaps most glaring was Mes being called for having her heel clearly over the line on a centre pass as she tried to screen Burger away in the last minute of extra time 2. This gave Tactix a quick goal and the next centre pass. The hosts sensibly played the clock down from 36 seconds to six, and Mystics couldn’t score in reply.
Where Was It Lost?
In such a tight and entertaining game it’s harsh to single out a moment or a player. However, Toeava’s seven turnovers was a blight on the sheet of Mystics. And while both defensive circles were lagging in rebounds against their opposition, for Fitzpatrick and Burley to get only 3 rebounds out of 18 missed shots shows there were many wasted opportunities.
Tactix: GS Bird, GS Selby-Rickit, WA Nathan, C Poi, WD Elley, GD Burger, GK Watson
Mystics: GS Nweke, GA Mes, WA Toeava, C Earle, WD Ioane, GD Burley, GK Fitzpatrick
In the final game of the weekend, Stars continued on their winning way with a dominant victory over Magic. There was just four goals the difference when the two teams met a fortnight before, but on this occasion, Stars almost put the game beyond doubt in the first quarter. Halfway through the first 15 minutes, Stars led 8-7 and it looked like a close game in prospect. It was then the Stars put the foot down and Magic simply had no answer. Scoring 10 of the next 12 goals, Stars led 18-9 at the first break, and it sucked the wind out of the home team’s sails.
From that point on, there was little between the teams. But the damage was done. Stars never looked like losing their grip on the game. The whole Stars team played well, but special mention needs to be made of three of the lesser known players. Young defender Elle Temu is having a brilliant season and it must be such a help to her that she gets to play with someone of Anna Harrison’s experience. Meanwhile, Mila Reuela-Buchanan goes from strength to strength in the midcourt, and goal attack Jamie Hume is playing her role beautifully in the absence of Monica Falkner.
Magic are still struggling to find the right way to feed Australian shooter Caitlin Bassett. She is lacking in confidence, not just with her form but also possibly with her knee which is heavily strapped each week. It’s just not the same Bassett we’re used to seeing. She was replaced late in the second quarter and the combination of Khiarna Williams and Ciara Semple played out the rest of the game in the circle. It will be interesting to see how Bassett is used for the rest of the year and what it all means for her playing future.
STARS 61 def WAIKATO BAY OF PLENTY MAGIC 49
Williams 19/23 (83%)
Semple 19/23 (83%)
Bassett 11/12 (92%)
TOTAL 49/58 (85%)
Assists 44 (Kolose, Winders 12)
Gains 13 (Mikaere, Fakahokotau 4)
Wilson 43/51 (84%)
Hume 18/22 (82%)
Amorangi Malesala 0/1 (0%)
TOTAL 61/74 (82%)
Assists 57 (Reuelu-Buchanan 26)
Gains 11 (Temu 6)
Penalties: Magic 57-50
Turnovers: Magic 32-21
MVP: Maia Wilson (Stars)
Magic: GS Bassett, GA Williams, WA Kolose, C Winders, WD Edgecombe, GD Mikaere, GK Fakahokotau
Stars: GS Wilson, GA Hume, WA Crampton, C Reuelu-Buchanan, WD Mather, GD Harrison, GK Temu
Stats Leaders of the Week:
Most Goals: 59 Grace Nweke (Mystics v Tactix)
Most Assists: 26 Mila Reuelu-Buchanan (Stars v Magic)
Most Gains: 6 Elle Temu (Stars v Magic)
Most Offensive Rebounds: 6 Ellie Bird (Tactix v Mystics) & Grace Nweke (Mystics v Tactix)
Most Defensive Rebounds: 3 Temalisi Fakahokotau (Tactix v Mystics)
Most Intercepts: 3 Kate Heffernan (Steel v Pulse) & Elle Temu (Stars v Magic)
(after Round 5)
Team / Played / Pts / %
STARS . 5 . 15pts . 119.9%
MYSTICS . 5 . 11pts . 104.6%
STEEL . 5 . 9pts . 102.3%
TACTIX . 5 . 7pts . 90.2%
PULSE . 5 . 6pts . 96.0%
MAGIC . 5 . 5pts . 90.6%
Sunday, May 23
4:15pm – Stars v Pulse
Monday, May 24
6:15pm – Steel v Tactix
8:15pm – Magic v Mystics