Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Netball: Mystics still look puzzled

Jade Clarke of the Mystics. Photo / Getty Images
Jade Clarke of the Mystics. Photo / Getty Images

Six rounds into the ANZ Championship, Debbie Fuller still seems mystified over the identity of her top line-up.

The Mystics, who take on the Steel in Dunedin this evening, have arguably the strongest roster in the league - which creates headaches as well as highlights.

At the pre-season tournament in Tauranga, Fuller talked ambitiously of "creating different lines for every situation we may come up against", a concept that sounded like the netball equivalent of Holland's Total Football in the 1970s.

In Brisbane last week, the experimentation came to a head. Fuller tried every possible combination, using 11 of her 12-strong squad without really finding the right recipe.

Romelda Aiken was far from her best - missing 15 shots - but the Queensland side still demolished their Auckland counterparts 56-43.

The Firebirds had 19 more goal attempts across the match, as the Mystics struggled for fluency at both ends of the court.

Both Temepara George and Jade Clarke were used at centre, while George and Grace Rasmussen took the wing attack bib at different times.

Rising star Kayla Cullen was benched for periods as Charlotte Kight played wing defence and Anna Harrison (nee Scarlett), Rachel Rasmussen and Jessica Moulds took turns in the circle.

"I have faith in everyone," says Fuller. "They all have a role and they understand where they fit in and how they can make a difference. It's about horses for courses."

Taking the thoroughbred metaphor, after starting the season at a gallop, the Mystics are down to a trot. They have lost two of their last three games and, after a soft draw at the start of the season, were not really in the contest against either the Thunderbirds or Firebirds.

The most disappointing aspect of last weekend's match was the lack of intensity from Fuller's team after the first quarter ended 14-14, when this was surely a golden chance to gain a psychological advantage over the Queenslanders by taking their first ever victory.

"They were incredibly desperate for the win," says Fuller tellingly, "and it was always going to be tough to beat an incredibly desperate team."

Yes, but after such a losing run (the Firebirds had won one from five), confidence can be fragile. It should have been foot-on-throat time against an arch-rival, instead it was foot in mouth.

"We need to get better at adjusting quicker to playing how we don't want to play," says Fuller. "We are good at playing with time and space but the Australian teams in particular don't allow the space and time you want. They force us to play lateral rather than an early release forward."

Fuller admits that the defensive circle is giving her the biggest headache, with four highly-rated players competing for two spots.

Close behind is the midcourt. George brings experience, game sense and vision, Clarke is more of a defensive, hard-working grinder, while Rasmussen is strong in the air and has vision.

"We have not yet played to our potential this year but we need to keep faith in the product," says Fuller. "This is the time of year when teams start to make their mark."

The Steel have a decent record against the Mystics (three wins, five losses) but haven't beaten them since 2010.

They present a difficult challenge this year, with the twin threats of Donna Wilkins and Jodi Brown in the circle and Australian Courtney Tairi at wing attack.

Other local interest will centre on the Magic's visit to Porirua, with the Pulse coming off a reasonably positive result in Sydney. They lost - for the 11th consecutive occasion on Australian soil - but only by three goals. Their previous best effort across the Tasman was a 10-goal defeat.

- Herald on Sunday

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