IN a battle of the undefeated teams it was the reigning premiers that came out on top in what was an intense and highly defensive battle to finish the third round of the ANZ Premiership. Neither the Pulse or Mystics were willing to give an inch and despite it being their second game of the round the Mystics did not seem fazed coming out strong and sticking to their structures but ultimately the Pulse had all the answers able to combat everything thrown at them. The lead chopped and changed throughout the game before the Pulse pulled away in the final term to run away with a seven goal victory (42-35) and keep their perfect record intact.
The opening term started with a bang with both sides feeling each other out. With the centre pass in hand, the Pulse hit the scoreboard first and converted off a turnover to nail two goals in a row despite the immense pressure from the Mystics. The Mystics made it hard in defence for the Pulse, clogging up the space and making Pulse flick the ball around. It was a scrappy couple of minutes from both teams with a lot of turnover ball before the Pulse started to settle in. Youngster Maddy Gordon continued her hot form from last round, lighting up the court with her speed and deceptive pressure while Aliyah Dunn showcased her strength with her solid positioning on the rebound and ability to find good space in the circle. The Mystics were costly in attack giving away a couple of offensive penalties allowing the Pulse to go on a mini goal scoring spree and open up a four goal buffer with seven minutes left in the quarter. Kelly Jury made Grace Nweke work for every ball before the Mystics goal shooter started to find her groove in attack and hold more of a commanding position. Pulse, goal defence Katrina Rore showcased her class taking a screaming intercept through the midcourt followed with a quick transition down the court and easy conversion under the post. The Pulse kept the pressure up going on another three goal run at the four minute mark while Nweke kept getting caught on the body and getting pinned for penalties. But she quickly changed up her game play sparking the Mystics in attack and prompting a flurry of goals to reduce the margin to two heading into the break.
Much like the first, the second was filled with intensity and excitement, however it was the Mystics that seemed to have the upper hand. Peta Toeava found Nweke with ease under the post, constantly delivering the ball to her on a silver platter. Disregarding the height difference between Toeava and Karin Burger, the wing attack had a field day, turning Burger inside out with her speed off the mark and unstoppable connection with Nweke. In defence the Mystics applied a wealth of pressure with Sulu Fitzpatrick and Phoenix Karaka shutting down every single option making the Pulse work for absolutely everything. With nine minutes remaining in the quarter, scores were tied up with the Mystics looking much more composed with ball in hand so much so they went on a three goal running spree to snatch the lead for the first time this match. Nweke was doing all the damage for the Mystics with Asher Grapes only managing the one goal for the game while the Pulse goalers struggled for accuracy. Sloppiness continued for the Pulse with Gordon breaking the centre pass and the Mystics applying a wealth of pressure only limiting the reigning premiers to two goals up until the 5 minute mark. With less than two minutes to go the Pulse kicked it up a gear inspired by captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Dunn stringing four goals together and clenching a one goal lead.
The half time break did not slow either side down but brought plenty of changes. A slow start from Grapes saw Saviour Tui come on at goal attack for the Mystics while moments later Tiana Metuarau pulled on the wing attack bib for the Pulse. It was goal for goal for most of the quarter with neither side willing to give up possession before the Mystics defence prevailed forcing a turnover. It did not take long for the Pulse to return serve with Jury and Rore working in overdrive to claim a huge rebound. Toeava seemed to have the ball on a string able to deliver to Nweke with ease while for the Pulse Claire Kersten kicked it up a gear, linking well with Ekenasio in the attacking third. After being level pegging for the opening couple of minutes the Mystics took the lead capitalizing off the back of a turnover sparked by Fitzpatrick while Jury kept getting pinned for contact thanks to Nweke being so strong on the hold. With the Pulse struggling to generate turnover ball in defence and hit the scoreboard, Dunn went to the bench pushing Ekenasio to goal shooter while Metuarau moved into her preferred position of goal attack. The change up seemed to be the spark the Pulse needed with Ekenasio upping the ante in attack and Metuarau good on the shot. After a quiet start, Burger leapt into action taking an important intercept to swing momentum back to Pulse, helping her side to three consecutive goals with Metuarau nailing a shot on the buzzer.
With the final 12 minutes of the game underway the Pulse unleashed, proving why they are still the team to beat. A turnover from the Mystics gifted the Pulse with an opportunity to bounce and that they did. Pulse were not afraid to go back and reset the play instead working the ball around to find an opening. The Mystics lost their way with Nweke giving away another offensive penalty while the Pulse kicked it up a gear to really pull away and cement their spot as top dog. It was a physical encounter with bodies flying everywhere, Gordon hit the deck midway through the quarter but immediately bounced back up. Ekenasio was as cool as they come under the post for the Pulse, dictating the play and sinking them from here, there and everywhere to push her side out to a solid lead.
It was an accurate display of shooting with Dunn finishing the game with 12 from 14 before heading to the bench while Nweke also flexed her muscles under the post sitting at 85 per cent thanks to her 28 from 33 attempts. The real difference came from the goal attack output with Ekenasio a strong target under the post and converting 21 from 24 while Mystics youngster Tui struggled to generate a lot of scoring opportunities with six from seven. Fitzpatrick was key in defence with two gains, four deflections and two rebounds while Burger managed three intercepts and three gains.
CENTRAL PULSE 10 | 8 | 12 | 12 (42)
NORTHERN MYSTICS 8 | 9 | 11 | 7 (35)
GS: Aliyah Dunn
GA: Ameliaranne Ekenasio
WA: Maddy Gordon
C: Claire Kersten
WD: Karin Burger
GD: Katrina Rore
GK: Kelly Jury
GS: Grace Nweke
GA: Asher Grapes
WA: Peta Toeava
C: Tayla Earle
WD: Emily Burgess
GD: Phoenix Karaka
GK: Sulu Fitzpatrick