The new and improved Central Pulse line-up got the heart-rates racing in the Northern Mystics coaching team last night, as the Auckland side struggled to a narrow win in their opening trans-Tasman league clash.
The Pulse made last year's beaten finalists look average at times, as they dictated the pace for most of the second and third quarters.
But the home side regained control of the match in the final period, after a clever change-up in their attack end saw Grace Rasmussen assume the goal attack duties from Silver Ferns front-liner Maria Tutaia.
The Mystics' depth much-vaunted defence end did not stand up so well to the Pulse challenge, with their chief ball-getter Anna Scarlett sidelined for the game as she recovers from a niggly calf injury.
The Auckland side's defence did not have the same bite to it with out the Silver Fern star, with Rachel Rasmussen allowing Pulse shooter Caitlin Thwaites too many openings under the goal. The Pulse were also given far too many second chances at goal, with Rasmussen and her defensive partner Kayla Cullen not picking up a rebound until the 42nd minute of the match. They finished with just two rebounds for the game.
Scarlett said despite some extremely nervous moments on the bench, she always backed her side to come through for the win.
"I think they did a good job overall, if anything the rebounds probably let us down a little bit. There was quite a few that they created and then weren't able to snap them in,'' she said.
The yellow of the Pulse's uniform has been given a lift in the off-season, and so too the line-up, with the injection of Silver Ferns Joline Henry and Paula Griffin, and highly-rated defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, giving the Wellington side a much stronger backbone.
The boost in experience was evident from the confident and controlled start to the game from the visitors, as they matched the Mystics goal-for-goal through the opening stages.
But a lapse in concentration in the final five minutes of the first quarter saw the home side pull away to take a 16-11 lead at the first break.
Just when they were looking like the Pulse of old, the visitors lifted the intensity several notches early in the second period, upping their through-court defence to slow the Mystics progress.
Frustrated at not being able to play the game at their usual pace, the Auckland side began to push their passes and the turnovers came.
With the Pulse shutting down the Mystics options, they managed to keep the home side scoreless for the first five minutes of the quarter to snatch a 17-16 lead.
They extended that advantage out to three goals on two occasions during the quarter, but each time the Mystics managed to rein them in, levelling the score at 27-all at halftime.
With neither side able to break the stalemate by the end of the third quarter, both coaches made bold substitution calls for the final period. Mystics coach Debbie Fuller benched Silver Ferns star Tutaia, and moved Grace Rasmussen across to goal attack in an effort to inject more movement in to the goal circle.
Meanwhile, Robyn Broughton replaced Griffin with young goal attack Amber Bellringer.
It was the Mystics changes that had the most effect, as Rasmussen was able to create more space for star shooter Cathrine Latu.
The Melbourne Vixens challenged conventional wisdom that the Queensland Firebirds are unstoppable, upsetting the defending champions 47-42 in Brisbane yesterday.
Overwhelming favourites to go back-to-back this season, the defending champions were 20 goals better than the Vixens when the two sides met in the final of the preseason tournament in Tauranga a month ago.
But the Vixens turned the tables on them yesterday, punishing a sloppy and ill-disciplined performance from the Firebirds.
Also notching up a win over the weekend were the Adelaide Thunderbirds, who overwhelmed the NSW Swifts 57-40 on Saturday afternoon.
In tonight's games the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic take on the Southern Steel in Invercargill, while the Canterbury Tactix meet the West Coast Fever in the late game in Perth.
- APNZBy Dana Johannsen Email Dana