The new and improved Central Pulse got the heart-rates racing among the Mystics coaching team last night, as the Aucklanders struggled to a narrow win in their opening transtasman league clash in Waitakere.
The Wellington-based Pulse made last year's beaten finalists look average at times as they dictated the pace for most of the second and third quarters.
But the home side regained control in the final period after a clever change-up in their attack end saw Grace Rasmussen assume the goal-attack duties and Silver Ferns front-liner Maria Tutaia leave the court.
The Mystics' much-vaunted defence did not stand up so well to the Pulse challenge, with their chief ball-getter Anna Scarlett sidelined for the game as she recovers from a niggly calf injury.
In the absence of the Silver Ferns star, the Mystics' defence lacked bite, with Rachel Rasmussen allowing Pulse shooter Caitlin Thwaites too many openings under the goal.
The Pulse were also given far too many second chances at goal, with Rasmussen and her defensive partner, Kayla Cullen, not picking up a rebound until the 42nd minute. They finished with just two rebounds for the game.
Scarlett said that despite some extremely nervous moments on the bench, she always backed her side to come through for the win.
"I think they did a good job overall; if anything, the rebounds probably let us down a little bit. There was quite a few that they created and then weren't able to snap them in," she said.
The yellow of the Pulse's uniform has been given a lift in the off-season, and so too the line-up, with the injection of Silver Ferns Joline Henry and Paula Griffin, and highly rated defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, giving the Wellington side a much stronger backbone.
The boost in experience was evident from the confident and controlled start to the game from the visitors, as they matched the Mystics goal-for-goal through the opening stages.
But a lapse in concentration in the final five minutes of the first quarter saw the home side pull away to take a 16-11 lead at the first break.
Was the weak Pulse of old returning? Not quite. The visitors lifted the intensity early in the second period, with their through-court defence slowing the Mystics' progress.
Frustrated at not being able to dictate the pace, the Mystics pushed their passes and turnovers came.
Shutting down the Mystics' options and keeping them scoreless for the first five minutes of the quarter, the Pulse snatched a 17-16 lead. They extended that advantage out to three goals twice during the quarter, but each time the Mystics managed to rein them in, levelling the score at 27-all at halftime.
Looking to break the stalemate, both coaches made bold substitution calls for the final period. Mystics coach Debbie Fuller benched Tutaia, and moved Rasmussen across to goal attack to get more movement into the goal circle.
Meanwhile, Robyn Broughton replaced Griffin with young goal attack Amber Bellringer.
It was the Mystics' changes that had the most effect, as Rasmussen was able to create more space for star shooter Cathrine Latu.
In yesterday's other big match, the Melbourne Vixens challenged conventional wisdom that the Queensland Firebirds are unstoppable, upsetting the defending champions 47-42 in Brisbane.
Overwhelming favourites to go back-to-back this season, the defending champions were 20 goals better than the Vixens when the two sides met in the final of the pre-season tournament in Tauranga a month ago.
But the Vixens turned the tables yesterday, punishing the Firebirds' sloppy and ill-disciplined performance.
In tonight's games the Magic face the Steel in Invercargill, while the Canterbury Tactix meet the West Coast Fever in the late game in Perth.By Dana Johannsen Email Dana