Mystics take step towards finals with impressive win

Mystics' goal shoot Grace Nweke was a standout again in her side’s win over the Pulse. ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT

The Blues might not be the only under-achieving Auckland sports team celebrating a title this season.

Netball’s Mystics took another step towards securing an ANZ Premiership finals berth with a polished 64-51 win over the Central Pulse at Auckland’s Trusts Stadium on Sunday.

This was the Mystics’ fourth win in their last five games and keeps them just a point behind crosstown rivals, the Stars, who sit at the top of the table. The two Auckland sides meet next Sunday at Takanini’s Pulman Arena in what should be another blockbuster between the teams.

With five round games left, the Mystics are well on track to feature in the top three finals, but will want first place, which guarantees an automatic place in the grand final and hosting rights.

Just a day after the Auckland-based Blues ended an 18-year title drought, beating the Highlanders in the Super Rugby trans-Tasman final, the Mystics showed they could also be competing for silverware come early August.
It could even be an all-Auckland title affair with the Stars and Mystics setting the standard in this year’s competition.

The Mystics have never won a title in their history, often disappointing in the former trans-Tasman competition, despite fielding talented squads and several Silver Ferns.

Goal shoot Grace Nweke was again a standout in the Mystics’ shooting end, converting 54 from 63 (86 per cent) and must have assured herself a spot in the Silver Ferns’ 2021-22 national squad, provided she meets the conditioning standards.

Captain Sulu Fitzpatrick and Kate Burley were excellent for the Mystics defensively, making life difficult for starting Pulse shooters Aliyah Dunn and Te Amo Amaru-Tibble.

The Pulse suffered narrow losses in their last two games, but were playing catch-up for most of this clash.

They have a must-win clash against the Tactix in Porirua next Sunday with the loser of that game facing an uphill battle to make the finals.

One of the few concerns for the Mystics was the play of Silver Ferns’ veteran Bailey Mes.

She had another poor shooting performance, landing a dismal two from nine (22 per cent) – a woeful percentage for a player of Mes’ experience and quality.

Mes’ poor shooting accuracy and inability to put up shots is fast becoming a concern for the Silver Ferns with captain and starting goal attack Ameliaranne Ekenasio unavailable this year due to pregnancy.

Tactix shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit looks like the best starting option at goal attack for the Ferns, given Mes’ struggles.

Mes was substituted at halftime with youngster Filda Vui replacing her at goal attack. She later returned to the game in the final quarter at wing attack for Peta Toeava.

The Pulse were in trouble early in the second quarter with the Mystics’ lead expanding to eight (21-13) after an 8-5 start to the term.

Dynamic wing attack Toeava started to get the better of the Pulse defenders and was able to fire the ball freely into Nweke.

Seeking greater defensive pressure on Toeava, Pulse coach Gail Parata switched around her midcourt moving Maddy Gordon into wing defence and Claire Kersten to centre.

Down by nine at halftime (30-21), the Pulse had a steep challenge ahead of them in the second half to get back into the game against the free-scoring Mystics.

The Pulse were let down by 13 first half turnovers, having 12 less attempts at goal than the Mystics.

After losing their last two games by two and three goals, the Pulse were desperate for a win to stay in the finals hunt.

They would have been pleased with their start, matching it with the Mystics in the early going, who can score rapidly through the prolific Nweke.

Circle defenders Kelera Nawai and Kelly Jury were able to do a solid job trying to shut down Nweke in the first quarter, forcing Mes to put up more attempts.

The Mystics finished the first term powerfully, capitalising from Pulse errors, going on a 5-1 run to close the quarter and lead 13-9.

They continued on from there and never looked back.

AT A GLANCE:

Mystics 64 (Grace Nweke: 54/63, Bailey Mes: 2/9, Filda Vui: 6/7, Saviour Tui: 2/3) Pulse 51 (Aliyah Dunn: 31/39, Te Amo Amaru-Tibble: 16/20, Whitney Souness: 4/7) 1Q: 13-9, HT: 30-21, 3Q: 47-36.

Stuff MVP points: Sulu Fitzpatrick 3, Kate Burley 2, Grace Nweke 1.

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