Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Transtasman clash will measure Mystics

Southern Steel's Courtney Tairi (right) and Tactix's Maree Bowden compete for the ball in the Steel's 55-53 victory yesterday. Photo / SNPA
Southern Steel's Courtney Tairi (right) and Tactix's Maree Bowden compete for the ball in the Steel's 55-53 victory yesterday. Photo / SNPA

The visiting West Coast Fever should provide a strong measure of the competitiveness of the top Kiwi hope early in the transtasman season.

The Northern Mystics take on their first Australian challenger in Auckland tonight as they look to keep pace with the impressive Melbourne Vixens, who made it three from three yesterday with a convincing win over the Thunderbirds.

Traditionally the weakest of the Australian teams, the Fever have a harder edge this season, with veteran coach Norma Plummer instilling an uncompromising attitude in the team.

Plummer, who returns to Auckland for the first time since stepping down as Diamonds coach last year, will have certainly done her homework on the Mystics side, which boasts six past and present Silver Ferns.

The battle between Plummer and rookie coach Debbie Fuller, who is in her second season in charge of the Mystics, should provide an intriguing sub-plot to the match.

Neither coach is afraid to go to the bench to change the side's style.

The Perth side have a more balanced line-up this year following the inclusion of Australian shooter Catherine Cox and English import Eboni Beckford-Chambers, who adds further international experience.

But the Mystics' key challenge against the Fever tonight remains the same as in other years - limiting the impact of their giant bookends, 1.92m shooter Caitlin Bassett and 1.96m defender Susan Fuhrmann.

While the Mystics are looking to maintain their unbeaten start, the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic are hoping to get their first points on the board.

The Magic, yet to notch up a win this season, will meet fellow strugglers NSW Swifts in Sydney later tonight. The loser will be the only winless side in the league. "We've never been in this predicament before so early in the competition so obviously there's a bit of feeling," said coach Noeline Taurua.

"The intent is definitely there, we just need more action behind it and more fire in the belly."

In yesterday's transtasman league match-ups, the Steel narrowly edged their Southern rivals, the Canterbury Tactix, 55-53 in a scrappy encounter in Christchurch.

In a dire match that featured more whistle than noteworthy plays, the two sides accrued a total of 170 penalties in 60 minutes of netball.

Tactix defender Bessie Manu was the worst offender, racking up 25 penalties - the same number she has averaged over the first two games, making her easily the most penalised player in the league.

But both sides were guilty of a lack of discipline, forcing the umpires to become involved by clumsy challenges and contesting balls they had little chance of getting without infringing.

After opening the season with consecutive losses, the Queensland Firebirds rediscovered the form that saw them unbeaten last season, demolishing the Central Pulse 58-32.

Silver Fern shooter Paula Griffin had a horror outing in Brisbane, converting four of 12 shots for a 33 per cent return before being replaced at halftime by Amber Bellringer.

Perhaps mercifully for Pulse fans, the television feed dropped out mid-way through the third quarter, but the remainder of the match continued to follow the same script - the Firebirds dominant in every facet.

ROUND THREE

Tonight
* 7.40pm Northern Mystics v West Coast Fever, Auckland
* 9.40pm NSW Swifts v Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic, Sydney.

- NZ Herald

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