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Dana Johannsen is a Herald sport writer

Dana Johannsen: Mystics, Magic left to fly NZ flag

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Anna Harrison of the Mystics put netball on the front pages after being hoisted repeatedly to block shots from the Melbourne Vixens during their match last month in Melbourne. Photo / Getty Images.
Anna Harrison of the Mystics put netball on the front pages after being hoisted repeatedly to block shots from the Melbourne Vixens during their match last month in Melbourne. Photo / Getty Images.

With four weeks left to run in the transtasman league the play-off configurations are beginning to become clear. As has been the case in previous years, representation of the finals contenders are decidedly lop-sided, with four Australian teams in the running and two Kiwi sides only.

While the Central Pulse are still a mathematical chance, don't bother getting out your scientific calculators - they are not a realistic shot. That means the Northern Mystics and the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic are the only teams with a hope of flying the flag for New Zealand in the final.

Northern Mystics
Current placing: 2
(14 points)

What have they done right?

The Mystics got it right from the outset, recruiting a strong roster that allows them plenty of flexibility with their line-up. Coach Debbie Fuller has also assembled an experienced management group around her, which has brought a greater professionalism to the team.

The coaching staff have shown a willingness to experiment and think outside the box, with the Harrison Hoist the most notable innovation.

What have they got wrong?

Inconsistency remains the Mystics' chief concern. In several games this season they've built a big lead but got too comfortable and their lead has disappeared. The Mystics have yet to show they're capable of really putting a team away, with their biggest win this season by seven goals.

What are the key things they need to do better over the final month to make them title contenders?

While the Mystics enjoyed flying under the radar in last season's play-offs run, that is not an option for them this year. They need to make the adjustment from being underdogs to competition frontrunners and send a strong message to their rivals with some big performances over the next four rounds. Win all their remaining games and they are virtually guaranteed the top spot, giving them a huge advantage in the play-offs.

Who's in form?

The Mystics have two of the league's top performers at each end of the court. Star defender Anna Harrison has scooped up the most intercepts this season, while shooter Cathrine Latu is averaging just one miss every second game, with a stunning 97.9 per cent accuracy rate.

Who's the weakest link?

With strong competition within the squad for game time, there have been no sustained form lapses from any player. If someone isn't performing Fuller can just go to her bench. In the matches they have struggled in, the team have failed as a collective unit to stay on task.

Who would they like to borrow from the non-contenders?

The Mystics have more than enough firepower on the bench as it is. Pillaging any more of New Zealand's playing resources would just be plain greedy, even if it is only hypothetical.

Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic
Current placing: 6
(10 points)

What have they done right?

Noeline Taurua's side have recovered incredibly well from a poor start, not only winning, but winning well. Despite sitting sixth on the table, the Magic boast the best points percentage in the competition, which could prove crucial to deciding the make-up of the top four. The Magic also look a lot more comfortable than other New Zealand sides against the Australian style of play. While they lost to the Swifts and Vixens earlier in the season, both losses were by two and one goals respectively - the closest they have come to either team when playing across the Tasman.

What have they got wrong?

Their start. Opening the season with four losses could ultimately prove fatal for the Magic. Yet their poor start could, ironically, be the very thing that helps the Magic succeed if they do make the play-offs. It's been do or die for the team since round five and that should set them up well for the pressure of finals netball.

What are the key things they need to do better over the final month to make them title contenders?

Keep winning. Another dropped game will likely put a fifth straight finals appearance out of their grasp.

Who's in form?

Just two weeks off her 40th birthday, Irene van Dyk remains the Magic's rock on attack. This year she also has strong support in Julianna Naoupu, who is growing in to her role and is one of the most productive goal attacks in the competition.

Who's the weakest link?

The wing attack position has long been a troublesome position for the Magic. Plucked from obscurity in South Australia, Khao Watts has done an admirable job making the step up to ANZ Championship netball. But when the pressure goes on, she is still the player likely to crack first.

Who would they like to borrow from the non-contenders?

Some midcourt reinforcements would be handy for the Magic's play-offs run. Someone with the class and experience of Maree Bowden (Canterbury Tactix) would add greater depth and flexibility to their midcourt.

- NZ Herald

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