Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Mystics have real chance at title

Catherine Latu. Photo / Getty Images
Catherine Latu. Photo / Getty Images

In all the feverish debate over the Northern Mystics' controversial defensive lift that followed their win over the Vixens last weekend, the significance of that result has almost been overlooked.

Anna Harrison's athletic exploits not only changed the game, her match-winning heroics in Melbourne also changed the complexion of the race for the minor premiership - although it is not immediately obvious from a cursory glance at the leaderboard.

The Mystics' win over the Vixens wasn't the only shock result of the round, with the table-topping Adelaide Thunderbirds going down to the Central Pulse in Wellington.

Despite all the drama of round 8, the top three teams - the Thunderbirds, Vixens and Mystics - remained in the same position on the ladder as they did going in to the weekend. But now only goal percentage separates the top three.

After some lacklustre performances over the first half of the season, Mystics coach Debbie Fuller said her side are "incredibly lucky" to find themselves in with a sniff of claiming the top spot on the ladder.

She said her side needed to replicate the intensity shown against the Vixens last weekend in their remaining matches.

"If we want that top spot there's no dropping a game, so that pressure is a good challenge for us."

With their difficult stretch of away games now out of the way, the Mystics are in the box seat to claim the number one position heading in to the play-offs.

In their five remaining fixtures the Auckland side will face the 10th-placed Canterbury Tactix twice, their first meeting being tomorrow, and host the return match against the Southern Steel (9th). Their most difficult match-ups will likely be against the fourth-placed NSW Swifts, and the Magic, who have set themselves up for a late charge at the play-offs.

After opening the season with an 0-4 run, the Magic have regained their spark in recent weeks, surging up the ladder from 10th place to fifth heading in to their bye round this weekend.

Along with some tough match-ups against their domestic rivals, the Thunderbirds and the Vixens still have to contend with trips across the Tasman over the next five weeks.

And with the Vixens to host the Thunderbirds next week, only one of those teams can go through the rest of the season unbeaten.

While the Mystics are considered to have the softest run in to the play-offs, they have displayed a tendency in the past to slip up against their lower-ranked rivals.

Fuller said after the elation of last week's breakthrough win, she had been careful to ensure her side didn't relax this week. "We need to keep our focus and ensure our attention to detail is spot on ..." she said. "There are no easy games, I think the Pulse beating the Thunderbirds also reinforced that to us."

Round nine

Tomorrow: 2.10pm West Coast Fever v Queensland Firebirds, Perth; 4.20pm Melbourne Vixens v NSW Swifts, Melbourne; 7.20pm Northern Mystics v Canterbury Tactix, Auckland.
Monday: 7.40pm Southern Steel v Central Pulse, Dunedin.
BYE: Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic, Adelaide Thunderbirds

Leaders road to Playoffs

* Thunderbirds (1) - BYE, Vixens (A), Firebirds (H), Swifts (A), Magic (A), Tactix (H)
* Vixens (2) - Swifts (H), Thunderbirds (H), BYE, Fever (H), Pulse (A), Steel (A)
* Mystics (3) - Tactix (H), BYE, Steel (H), Magic (H), Tactix (A), Swifts (H).

- NZ Herald

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