Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Mystics prepare case for defence

Northerners' struggling defensive unit will be up against super shooter Romelda Aiken this weekend.

Firebirds super-shooter Romelda Aiken is a daunting opponent for the Mystics. Photo / Getty Images
Firebirds super-shooter Romelda Aiken is a daunting opponent for the Mystics. Photo / Getty Images

After producing the worst defensive performance seen in six seasons of the transtasman league, the Northern Mystics now face the demoralising task of trying to shut down Jamaican super-shooter Romelda Aiken when the Queensland Firebirds roll into town this weekend.

The Mystics conceded a cringe-inducing 80 goals against the Fever in their round two match-up, as the Perth side amassed a record score in the competition, eclipsing the 75 goals the Steel scored against the Tactix 24 hours earlier.

As an increasingly frazzled and disorganised Mystics defensive unit struggled to disrupt the constant flow of ball into the Fever shooting circle, former Mystics coach Debbie Fuller sat on the couch at home barely able to look.

"It was quite painful to watch, because it was such an onslaught from the Fever. When a team get on a roll like that it can be tough to peg it back," she said.

Fuller, who stepped aside as coach of the Mystics at the end of last season to spend more time with her family, remains at the franchise in a more casual role as a technical adviser. Her defensive expertise has been called on this week as the team look to address their horrendous record from the opening two rounds.

The Mystics have conceded 140 goals in their two games this season, making the 2012 average of 59 goals a game for Tactix, last year's wooden spooners, look brilliant.

It was always expected they'd lose a bit of bite with the withdrawal of Anna Harrison through pregnancy, and season-ending injury to Charlotte Kight. But few would have predicted the team, known for their clever and innovative defensive strategies, would look so clueless.

Their new-look defensive unit of Jess Moulds, import Julie Corletto and Hayley Saunders have had limited time together in the preseason, then there is the added challenge of trying to slot an Australian defender into the New Zealand style of play.

But their struggles can't all be dismissed as simply a lack of familiarity and cohesion.

After a promising opening game against the Vixens, Moulds was disappointing in Perth, proving ineffective against shooter Caitlin Bassett, who was so poor against the Swifts the week before she was pulled after the first quarter.

Fuller said the young defender needed to show more aggression.

"She has to get more comfortable with competing in the air, and be willing to contest everything," said Fuller.

"Her performance was left wanting last week, but she is such a diligent player - she is always working hard to improve her game."

The pressure will be on Moulds again on Sunday as she faces an even taller task of matching up on the 1.96m Aiken, one of the league's most prolific shooters.

The 23-year-old admitted marking the tall shooters could be disheartening, but she hoped the lessons learned from her experience against the Fever would help her make more of an impact at home.

"I think one-on-one against those tall shooters is always going to be hard, but you've just got to get up and keep trying and anything we do get off them, we have to treasure," said Moulds.

Although on the evidence of last week the Mystics look to be headed for another hefty defeat, Fuller believes her side can stop the fast-scoring Firebirds.

She said it would take committed defence right across the court, stopping the fast transition ball out of the Firebirds' defensive end.

"You have to contest everything and anything to upset the flow of the ball."

Fuller points out history shows they have responded strongly from heavy defeats across the Tasman. The first trip to Australia of the year has traditionally proven a stumbling block for the Mystics, who suffered a 13-goal loss to the Firebirds last season even with a star-studded side.

The year before that it was the Thunderbirds that delivered the Auckland side a wake-up call.

"Every year an Aussie team has got a run on us. We seem to get tripped up on our first game in Australia and we get a stark reminder of what we're up against and the intensity we need to play at."

ANZ Championship: round 3

4.20pm: Southern Steel v Adelaide Thunderbirds, Dunedin.

2.10pm: West Coast Fever v WBOP Magic, Perth; 7.20pm Northern Mystics v Queensland Firebirds, Auckland.

7.40pm: Central Pulse v NSW Swifts, Wellington; 9.40pm: Melbourne Vixens v Mainland Tactix, Melbourne.

- NZ Herald

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