It's a green team but whoever is thrown starting roles will need to get up to speed quickly

It didn't take Northern Mystics chief executive Julie Paterson much to convince Ruth Aitken to take on the role of caretaker coach at the franchise this season.

But if Paterson had said: "oh, by the way, you'll lose a senior player in your second training, have one captain withdraw due to pregnancy, the other captain will be away for most of February, another Silver Fern battling a niggly injury, and five very green youngsters to bring up to speed", Aitken might have had second thoughts. But now she has got her head around the challenges thrown at her in the preseason, the seemingly unflappable former Silver Ferns coach is typically unfazed by the task ahead of her.

The loss of Anna Harrison (pregnant) and Charlotte Kight (torn Achilles) will undoubtedly leave a massive hole in the defensive end, Aitken said, but she believes her side still have the depth to be a strong force in the competition.

The late addition of former Southern Steel midcourter Hayley Saunders, who joined the side in Auckland less than two weeks ago, gives the Mystics another centre-wing defence option and bolsters their experience through the middle.


But she has not had a lot of time to develop her combinations with the team, creating some tough selection decisions for Aitken, who needs to weigh up whether she'll be better off throwing one of her rookies like Jessica Bourke straight in the deep end, play a slightly more experienced player like Bailey Mes out of position, or go with Saunders who knows the position, but isn't so familiar with her teammates.

Whoever is thrown starting roles will need to get up to speed quickly, or their tough preseason will only be the start of their misery this year.

The Auckland team have a brutal start to the year, with early title favourites the Melbourne Vixens first up at Trusts Stadium on Monday night, followed by a trip to Perth to face Norma Plummer's Fever side, before returning home to face the Firebirds.

"I have no doubt this season is going to be challenging, we've had a few setbacks, we just need to be resilient and go out there and do it really," said Aitken.

The Steel and Central Pulse open their season across the Tasman tomorrow, heading to Brisbane and Adelaide respectively to take on birds of the Fire and Thunder variety.

The Magic will kick off their title defence against the Tactix in Nelson, mindful of their poor start to the 2012 season. The Waikato-Bay of Plenty side suffered a shock loss to the Steel in round one last year, on their way to an 0-4 start to the season. While they responded in the best possible way, stringing together a 13-game winning streak on their way to the title, sharpshooter Irene van Dyk said the Magic want to avoid putting themselves under that sort of pressure again.

"We definitely did it the hard way last year, we'd much prefer to start the season as we mean to go on," she laughed.

Tomorrow's game will be the first time the ANZ Championship has been to Nelson, with the Tactix keen to connect with their Tasman fans following the new zone changes.

ANZ Championship
Round 1

2.10pm Queensland Firebirds v Southern Steel, Brisbane

4.10pm Adelaide Thunderbirds v Central Pulse, Adelaide

7.20pm Mainland Tactix v Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic, Nelson


7.40pm Northern Mystics v Melbourne Vixens, Auckland

9.40pm NSW Swifts v West Coast Fever, Sydney