Michael Burgess

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

Netball: Mystics must break through the wall

Geva Mentor has been solid at the back of the court.  Photo / Getty Images
Geva Mentor has been solid at the back of the court. Photo / Getty Images

She's the English rose of the Vixens who has bloomed in 2012.

Acknowledged as one of the best goal keeps in the sport, Geva Mentor has formed an outstanding combination with Australian Diamonds Julie Corletto and Bianca Chatfield at the back of the court.

Indeed, if the Mystics are to prevail today in their ANZ Championship playoff, they will need to trump probably the best defensive trio in the league. With their attacking end sometimes spluttering, the trio have been a key part of a season that has yielded just three losses for the Melbourne team.

"It feels like things have really gelled this year," Mentor told the Herald on Sunday, "which is great after just missing out last season [the Vixens finished fifth]. Bianca, Julie and I joked at the start of the year that we might rotate positions - it hasn't happened but I think we have found our groove at the back of the court."

"Those three have been crucial for the Vixens," says Mystics coach Debbie Fuller. "As a unit, they can switch between zonal and man-to-man defending more effectively than most other teams."

Watching her this season, it looks like Mentor has recaptured the form of 2010, when she helped the Adelaide Thunderbirds to the ANZ Championship, named the grand final MVP in the process. Warily for the Mystics, Mentor sees some echoes of 2010.

"We are different teams but there are some similarities," says Mentor when comparing the Thunderbirds of the past with the Vixens of today. "There is a similar feeling in the group. There are plenty of doubters but we have a great spirit and true belief. We are focused on ourselves [and] not too worried about the outside views."

Mentor has a defined style; at 1.88m, there are not many taller defenders but she combines power and athleticism to good effect. Similar to Casey Williams in the way she constantly looks to hunt the ball, the 28-year-old offers a compelling mix of abilities.

"Her strength is probably in the way she can slide from attacker to attacker," says Fuller. "She is equally adept out in front or in a back space and adjusts rapidly."

Mentor, who hails from the English seaside town of Bournemouth, has adapted well to life in Melbourne. A sports nut, she left her kayaks and catamaran back in England but keeps busy with a variety of other activities. Once a week, Mentor rises at 3.20am and spends the morning at Flemington Racecourse, indulging her love of horses by working as a stablehand.

Looking at today's encounter, she describes the Mystics as "quite fancy".

"They have all their spectacular moves and individually, they can be brilliant," says Mentor. "I guess in the last two years, they have added more steel to their play."

Of particular concern are Cathrine Latu and Maria Tutaia, who she acknowledges as "probably the best" attacking duo in the sport. She has had plenty of exposure to Tutaia in particular, having represented England since she was 17-years-old.

"Maria and Cathrine can both hold their own," says Mentor. "If one gets shut down, the other will dominate. They work the circle extremely well."

Few teams have been able to stop the Auckland pair this year but tactics have tended to focus on cutting the supply to Latu and forcing Tutaia to constantly hit the mark from long range.

"We have our plans to stop them but executing is another matter," says Mentor. "Individually and as a unit, they can be incredibly difficult to combat and you can't afford to overly focus on one of them. It is quite daunting but we love the challenge."

- Herald on Sunday

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