Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Sloppy Mystics fall to Vixens

Cathrine Latu. Photo / Getty Images
Cathrine Latu. Photo / Getty Images

Mystics 34 Vixens 58
High hopes for the Mystics' transtasman league season have been significantly downgraded after a sloppy showing from the new-look Auckland side against the Vixens in Melbourne.

The Mystics, who along with the Central Pulse are considered New Zealand's best chances of taking out the ANZ title this year, looked far from premiership contenders in their 24-goal hammering to the Vixens in today's season-opener.

Missing key defenders Anna Harrison, Jodi Tod-Elliott and Kayla Cullen for the match, the Mystics were forced to field two ring-ins from outside the squad in their starting line-up - Jess Tuki at goal-keep and Kirsten Hurley at wing defence. Given these injury disruptions they have experienced in the lead-up the Mystics weren't expected to be at top-speed right away, but their confused showing in Melbourne, particularly by their full-strength attack line, suggests it is just a simple case of waiting for their defensive reinforcements to return.

Established shooting pairing Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Latu were well-contained by defenders Bianca Chatfield and Geva Mentor, who did an impressive job of shutting down the Mystics' options. The huge defensive effort from the Vixens was also reflected in the opposition's woeful shooting stats, with the Mystics' team shooting at just 59 per cent. The pair weren't helped by some ragged through-court attack, with star new recruit Laura Langman unable to bring the calm and poise to the Mystics attacking play she is renowned for.

Tutaia, who spoke in the lead-up to the match of the team's determination to put last year's horror 10th place finish behind them with a clinical display today, said her side did not cope well with the Vixens defensive intensity.

"Our placement of passes on attack was poor and we just couldn't get our centre passes away," she said. "I thought our defenders won us a lot of ball, we just weren't connected in the whole."

"The [Vixens] defenders did a great job of putting us under pressure both inside and outside the circle. But that's the type of pressure we'll be under week-in, week-out so we need to be able to deal with that."

The Mystics defensive pairing of Tuki and Australian import Julie Corletto can take some satisfaction out of their performance early on, with the pair picking up some good ball in the defensive circle and forcing an early change to the Vixens shooting circle with star signing Catherine Cox benched mid-way through the second quarter after the Mystics made a 7-3 start to the period.

But overall the Mystics defensive effort was not consistent enough, as the Vixens' feeders all too often found easy passage to the edge of the circle.

The big game in Australia over the weekend saw Rob Wright, the first male head coach in the ANZ Championship, open his tenure at the Swifts with a 54-51 win over Norma Plummer's West Coast Fever side. On the back foot for most of the first half, the Swifts came home strongly in the second with new defensive recruit Sharni Layton warming into her task.

The Pulse will get their campaign underway tomorrow against the defending champion Adelaide Thunderbirds in Porirua.

- NZ Herald

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