Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Tis the season of small surprises

Netball writer Dana Johannsen hands out her mid-season gongs.

Hard work has paid off for Pulse defender Katrina Grant, whose newly acquired speed to the ball is making her dangerous on court. Photo / Getty Images
Hard work has paid off for Pulse defender Katrina Grant, whose newly acquired speed to the ball is making her dangerous on court. Photo / Getty Images

Best surprise: Anna Harrison's pregnancy

You could only put Anna Harrison's happy news that she is expecting her first child in the good news category, but it sprang the mother of all surprises on Mystics management. The star defender was a key part of the Mystics' plans this season both on and off the court, the Auckland side relying on Harrison to step up and assume a leadership role following the retirement of their long-serving captain, Temepara Bailey (nee George). Harrison's withdrawal has left a huge hole in the Mystics' defence, which has conceded an average of 71 goals a game. Ouch.

Worst surprise: The Magic in Perth

Of the New Zealand sides, the Magic are the only ones who have proven capable of winning across the Tasman - or at the very least shown they can be competitive. Last year they looked to have made further gains in this area, with their biggest loss on Australian soil being by just two goals. But their first Aussie road trip this season to take on the West Coast Fever resulted in one of the ugliest performances by a New Zealand side across the ditch.

While they lost by only six in the end, the Magic were well out of contention by the third quarter after their inability to absorb the defensive pressure of the Fever was exposed.

Best player: Madison Browne (Melbourne Vixens)

The Australian Diamonds player of the year in 2012, Madison Browne has continued her impressive form. In a sport where the heroines are usually the defenders or the shooters, the nippy midcourter has been a standout for her Vixens side. She is the go-to girl in the Vixens attack, sitting second in the league for goal assists and sixth in centre-pass receives, while still maintaining a very low error rate.

Best New Zealand player: Katrina Grant (Central Pulse)

It's evident from the shape Katrina Grant is in that she has worked extremely hard over the preseason. It's paying off on the court, with Grant in dominant form for her Pulse side.

The 1.85m defender has become one of the best ball-getters in the league, with her strong vision, timing and newly acquired speed making her a danger for opposition attacks.

An honourable mention has to go to Mystics midcourter Grace Rasmussen, who has been a standout for the poorly performing Mystics.

Best import (and best rookie): Jhaniele Fowler (Steel)

There are some who may dismiss the Steel's game plan of biffing the ball into their 1.98m shooter Jhaniele Fowler as boring, but it's effective. The Jamaican has had a huge impact on the league, leading the scoring with an average of 50 goals a game. As a side note, the Silver Ferns selectors must be concerned that the top-performing shooters for New Zealand franchises are all imports - Fowler, Jo Harten of the Tactix, and the Pulse's Caitlin Thwaites.

Best game: Mystics v Pulse (round 5)

There has been a series of tight matches in recent weeks, the Adelaide Thunderbirds proving they have a knack for pulling off one-goal wins.

But for sheer drama you can't go past the Mystics' extra time win over the Central Pulse in round five.

Winless after the opening four rounds, the Mystics were expected to fall heavily to the Pulse and at halftime they certainly looked to be headed for another humiliating loss.

But the Mystics found their spark in the second half, clawing their way back into the match before a controversial umpiring decision gave Maria Tutaia an opportunity to send the match into extra time. Fittingly, it was Tutaia who landed the clutch shot to win the match.

It was hoped it would be a turning point in the season for the Auckland side, but they backed it up with a horror performance against the Southern Steel last week.

- NZ Herald

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