Southern Steel 67 Northern Mystics 52
The battling Northern Mystics let a chance to seize some all-important momentum slip them by, returning to their disjointed and error-ridden ways against the Southern Steel in Invercargill last night.
After a horror start to the season marked by a string of ugly losses, the Mystics finally showed some character and fight last week, toppling the highly-fancied Central Pulse in extra time.
With the Steel also having just one win to their name from the first five rounds, last night's clash in Invercargill presented an opportunity for the under-fire Mystics to grab another confidence-boosting win and put behind them rumours of friction in the group.
But the visitors struggled to find that same energy and determination against the solid, yet unspectacular Steel line-up.
The Steel's 1.98m scoring machine Jhaniele Fowler proved a demoralising presence for the Mystics, with the home side seemingly able to score at will, while the Aucklanders were laboured on attack.
Stopping Fowler has been a tough ask for every team that has faced the Steel - it requires sides to work relentlessly on defence right through the court, to slow the Steel's delivery into the circle. The Mystics just weren't able to put the Steel under consistent pressure. Whenever they threatened to make a run at the Steel they let the homeside off the hook with basic errors on attack.
Much of the credit can to go the Steel defensive pairing of Rachel Rasmussen and Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick - both former Mystics players. The pair put their inside information of the Mystics star shooting duo of Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Latu to good use, restricting their space and frustrating them into errors. Rasmussen, who was lining up against her sister Grace for the first time since moving to the deep South, was a particularly influential, with the wily defender knowing just how to push the buttons of the opposition.
With nine turnovers against her name, Latu was dragged in the final quarter and replaced by Bailey Mes - an early win for the Steel defensive line.
While much has been made of the Mystics early season difficulties, the Steel have also had a challenging start to the year with assistant coach Natalie Avellino axed after four rounds due to an apparent "difference in coaching philosophies" with head coach Janine Southby. Steel captain Jodi Brown said she was proud of the resilience her side have shown to put the off-court dramas behind them.
"We've come through a tough couple of weeks, so I'm really pleased the girls were able to put a performance like that out on the court," said Brown.
The makeshift netball venue at the Stadium Southland velodrome that hosted last night's ANZ Championship match has been approved for a Silver Ferns test later this year.
An Invercargill community organisation and the local city council have forked out $20,000 to prevent Netball New Zealand from taking the opening Constellation Cup test to another centre.
The netball-mad city were in danger of losing the September 15 transtasman test with the redevelopment of Stadium Southland well behind schedule. Due for completion in July, the stadium, which was severely damaged when the roof caved in after a heavy snowstorm in September 2010, now isn't expected to be finished until October.
The delay prompted Netball New Zealand to consider a location change for the test, but the national body yesterday decided Invercargill's back-up option would be suitable. It helped that the Invercargill Licensing Trust and the City Council chipped in with $10,000 each to sweeten the deal.