By Ian Harkin
Round eight of the ANZ Premiership was the tightest of the 2021 competition so far. Just seven goals in total separated the winners from the losers, with all three defeated teams picking up a bonus point. The round kicked off with a clash between last year’s grand finalists. The hosts, Tactix never trailed at any sage during the match and ran out 55-52 winners over Pulse. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
After leading by four at quarter time, seven at half time, and five at three quarter time, the home side controlled the majority of the last quarter, slowly but surely extending their lead. When Te Paea Selby-Rickit scored with less than two and a half minutes left on the clock, the margin was a comfortable ten goals. But incredibly, they didn’t score again while Pulse piled on seven goals straight to finish the match.
While never looking likely to steal the game, that late surge saw Pulse cut the margin back to just three goals on full time, thus earning them a valuable bonus point. In a tight competition such as this, Tactix would be disappointed in allowing their opponents to get that point and it could possibly come back to bite them in the end. Even so, that win takes them ahead of Pulse and just a point outside the top three.
For Tactix, Samon Nathan had a tremendous game at wing attack, expertly feeding goal shooter Ellie Bird who is growing in confidence every week. The back three of captain Jane Watson, Karin Burger and Charlotte Elley all played well, although Burger was penalised a staggering 22 times. Pulse missed the services of unwell goal attack Te Amo Amaru-Tibble. They were best served by goal shooter Aliyah Dunn and centre and captain Claire Kersten.
The second game of the round was in Dunedin, where the Southern Steel defeated Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in an absolute thriller. The visitors started well and held sway until midway through the first quarter, but once Steel took over, they never relinquished the lead throughout the rest of the match. They were however challenged hard by a gutsy Magic team still looking for its second win of the season.
Steel led by eight goals early in the last quarter and with three and a half minutes left, they still looked to have the game well in hand when they led by five goals. That was when hesitation and nervousness suddenly hit and a run of five straight goals saw Magic draw level with a minute left. Eventually, it was left to Steel’s English import George Fisher to score the winning goal in dramatic circumstances.
After missing with her first attempt, Fisher took a tremendous rebound under pressure and quickly put the ball up and in for the winner in the final play of the game. Many television viewers were no doubt confused when the final goal was scored several seconds after time was up on the screen clock. But by the umpires’ whistle, that wasn’t the case, and that’s what counts.
Fisher continued her strong form and was a deserving player of the match, notching 50 goals from 54 attempts. It was also another creative outing from shooting partner Tiana Metuarau. Their combination has been a highlight of the season so far. Young defender Taneisha Fifita was again among the best players, as was captain Shannon Saunders who plays well week in, week out.
For Magic, Grace Kara played the first three quarters in her more traditional position of wing attack, with Chiara Semple at goal attack. It is a bit of a mystery why Khiarna Williams has now seemingly been relegated to the bench, after being one of Magic’s best players in the opening half of the season. Once again, Sam Winders tried her heart out. She really doesn’t deserve to be on a losing team.
The final match of the round was a top-of-the-table clash. And it was the second placed Mystics that got the better of the all-Auckland battle. They took the lead towards the end of a tight opening quarter and in a familiar pattern with the other matches in the round, they never gave it up. Down by seven at the main break, an improved Stars lineup challenged strongly in the second half, but they were unable to get any closer than two goals.
Grace Nweke was again the star of the show for Mystics with an incredible haul of 60 goals. Her shooting partner Bailey Mes only contributed three to the total and while that worked out perfectly fine in this game, she may be required to lift that volume in future matches. At the other end of the court, captain Sulu Fitzpatrick kept the pressure on Stars captain Maia Wilson, restricting her to 34 goals for the game. Former NSW netballer Claire O’Brien made her competition debut at centre and performed creditably.
For Stars, Oceane Maihi played the full game at goal keeper up against Nweke, and while she came away with six possession gains, it was notable that Anna Harrison and Elle Temu both had very quiet games for them with no gains, having been pushed out one spot from their normal positions. Wing attack Gina Crampton had another fine game with 32 assists and just two turnovers.
The final margin of three goals was enough for Stars to pick up a bonus point, but they’ll be disappointed with their second loss in the past three games after starting the season with five straight victories. For Mystics, this was another impressive showing and lifts their record to five wins and three losses in this very open 2021 ANZ Premiership competition. Mystics now come up against bottom placed Magic, while Stars will play Pulse, the team which dismantled them and consigned them to their first defeat of the season just three rounds ago.
Sunday, Jun 13
6:15pm – Stars v Pulse
Monday, Jun 14
6:15pm – Magic v Mystics
8:15pm – Tactix v Steel