A SEASON defining matchup between the Northern Mystics and Mainland Tactix opened Sunday’s proceedings of ANZ Premiership action, with both teams fighting to the finish and the Tactix running away with a thrilling one-goal win (43-42). The Tactix extended their consecutive winning record, with the tally now at five on the trot as the side edges closer to a top two finish and finals berth.
A strong start from the Tactix proved the side was well and truly ready for a huge match, with a couple quick deflections forcing errors from the Mystics. Patience down the court was critical with Phoenix Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick in an arm wrestle with Ellie Bird and Te Paea Selby-Rickit early, not forcing any ball into the circle, where the Mystics’ ball speed into the circle was the complete opposite.
The Tactix extended an early lead, with cleanliness paying off for a 9-4 start, just over five minutes on the clock in the first term. Charlotte Elley was all over Peta Toeava, and while Toeava was able to free herself with her burst of speed, Elley’s take off and height was paying dividends to force Toeava away from the circle. But brilliant work and a splash of momentum proved the Mystics would not be shot out of the match early, with the lead closing to three goals – though the hunt of Temalisi Fakahokotau was just warming up.
Bird continued her strong form, while Mystics’ Filda Vui got the start in at goal attack with her cleverness with ball in hand paying off at the other end and influential feeding the ball to Grace Nweke at the post. The mismatch in height between Nweke and Fakahokotau was evident though the goal keeper was doing a great job forcing Nweke to the front space rather than her preferred goal line, allowing Jane Watson to speed into the circle and attempt the block. While Watson did not manage a heap of that ball early, if Nweke couldn’t hold her ground and find the goal line the Tactix were well and truly in with a chance on that long ball into the circle. The Mystics’ comeback saw just a one goal lead at the first change, with Tactix leading 12-11 at quarter time.
Where the circles had much of the action early, through the midcourt was where a huge amount of the battle was fought with Tayla Earle and Kimiora Poi evenly matched and all but cancelling each other out on the drive. Selby-Rickit’s playmaking ability was huge, opening up a heap of space though her direct opposition in Mystics captain, Karaka was huge early with her drive down the court off the turnover and ability to create the loose ball. Karaka switched on with the home crowd behind her, with exceptional timing to flick the ball back onto the court from behind the post, seeing the Mystics take a two goal lead. Fitzpatrick did a lot of the backup work, partnering well with her hands over pressure.
Up the other end, a few handy rebounds from the Tactix saw a heap of turnover ball drive back down the other end, with Watson’s anticipation and timing on the leap paying dividends as the Tactix turned the tides to take back the lead. Emily Burgess took the court in wing defence for the Mystics to block some of Erikana Pedersen’s vision into the circle with the wing attack’s feeds vital for Selby-Rickit. Meanwhile, Saviour Tui joined the fray with her zippy movement and height adding a different element to the Mystics attack and take some attention off Nweke. Every player on the court was hunting for the turnover and pouncing on any loose ball, though it was the Tactix that headed into the second half with a three goal advantage, 24-21.
A tough second half commenced with no changed from either side to start, with the tough contest continuing and neither side letting off. The Tactix’ versatility through the midcourt continued to pay off, able to zone where required but the one-on-one defence huge too, confusing the space well. The rebound and tap from Fakahokotau and Watson was during once more, with the defensive duo impeccable on the timing to deny ball to Nweke. But the Mystics’ defensive pressure outside the circle was great to limit access to circle edge where the Tactix typically prefer to feed from, with Earle and Burgess’ ability to control the space hard to contend with and allowing Karaka and Fitzpatrick to go out hunting.
Toeava’s pinpoint feeds continued to shine with Fakahokotau just missing the ball at times and the penalties racking up as the Mystics edged ever closer. Courtney Elliott joined the fray in wing defence with just under five left in the quarter, with the Mystics defender able to adapt well to the contest and her hunt limiting options in attack for the Tactix. That being said, the Tactix continued to fire and maintained the lead, despite the Mystics marching them goal for goal as the treasured Tactix ball limited chances for turnovers in attack. A turnover, resulting goal and next centre pass saw the Mystics close to just two goals once more with less than a minute on the clock, seeing the Tactix head into the final change 34-32 but the Mystics ready to fight to the very end.
The Mystics’ three-goal run at the end of the third saw them take the first centre pass but the Tactix turned it over immediately to make the Mystics work for a win. The Mystics were still struggling to generate that turnover ball, and while defensively Fitzpatrick had a great intercept the attacking unit was failing to really have that significant defensive impact through the midcourt. The change was made defensively with under five minutes on the clock, with Elliott replacing Karaka in goal defence and Dani Gray back into wing defence. It failed to have a huge impact though, with the Tactix maintaining all the momentum and connections firing all the way down the court. The tightness of the contest saw cautions aplenty handed out in the final term, and while a huge last few minutes from Toeava saw the Mystics come close to victory, the Tactix had the final centre pass and kept the ball safe for a huge one goal victory, 43-42.
Nweke was huge as ever with 37 goals at 88 per cent accuracy, winning the battle against Fakahokotau who racked up just three gains – two deflections and on rebound – while Watson was clinical as ever (four gains from six deflections) limiting attempts from both Tui and Vui with the two goal attacks combining for five goals from nine attempts. At the other end, Bird finished with 30 goals at 91 per cent, while Selby-Rickit plied her trade out the front with 13 goals,13 assists and an intercept to her name – the only Tactix intercept for the match. Karaka was huge with three gains (two intercepts) while Fitzpatrick was quiet compared to her usual form. Toeava led the assists tally with 19 and an intercept, while Tactix’ Pedersen and player of the match, Poi racked up 13 and 15 apiece to go with Selby-Rickit’s haul.
Northern Mystics 12 | 9 | 11 | 10 (42)
Mainland Tactix 13 | 11 | 10 | 9 (43)
GS: Grace Nweke
GA: Filda Vui
WA: Peta Toeava
C: Tayla Earle
WD: Dani Gray
GD: Phoenix Karaka
GK: Sulu Fitzpatrick
GS: Ellie Bird
GA: Te Paea Selby-Rickit
WA: Erikana Pedersen
C: Kimiora Poi
WD: Charlotte Elley
GD: Jane Watson
GK: Temalisi Fakahokotau