Around the ANZ Championship with Dana Johannsen.
Traditionally one of the most accurate teams in the league, the shooting yips have hit the Mystics big time early on this season.
Collectively the Auckland side shot at a shade over 59 per cent in their opening round match-up with the Vixens. They were only marginally better on Monday night, netting 65 per cent of their shots at goal. On both occasions they were up against all-international defensive pairings, but Cathrine Latu and Maria Tutaia themselves are a well-established shooting combination with solid international experience, while Bailey Mes is in the hunt for a place in the Silver Ferns line-up for the Commonwealth Games. Mystics coach Debbie Fuller desperately needs her trio to regain their confidence against the Pulse this weekend, as does a certain no-nonsense New Zealand coach.
Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic
Former NSW Swifts coach Julie Fitzgerald has given her defenders the directive to contest every ball this year. Rather than playing a space-marking style and trying to set up intercept opportunities as is traditionally the New Zealand style, Fitzgerald wants to see her defenders put pressure on every pass. It is advice Ferns defenders Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin appear to have taken on board.
In Monday night's clash against the Mystics, Kopua's dedication to the game plan saw her at one point launch herself at the ball, only to lose her footing and slide head-first out of the circle and almost up to the transverse line. The moisture on the court meant Kopua carried a lot further than usual.
All the teams are in agreement the Pulse boast impressive depth this year. The question is, will we get to see it? The Pulse are the only team to have used the same seven for the full 60 minutes of both games, leaving some exciting talent sitting on the bench. In English import Ama Agbeze and Silver Fern midcourter Katarina Cooper, coach Robyn Broughton has the ability to change the dynamic in her defenceand midcourt, but she has resisted doing so. Having in some cases gone to great expense to recruit this star-studded team, you've got to wonder about the value the Pulse are getting. No doubt England coach Anna Mayes will be frustrated to see Agbeze sitting on the bench when she could be back home preparing for the Commonwealth Games with the rest of the UK-based players.
It might not always be popular with the teams, but having the microphones in the huddles during the injury breaks gives fascinating insight for the viewer.
Tactix coach Leigh Gibbs' advice to defender Louise Thayer during a break in play just as the Canterbury side had the competition heavyweights the NSW Swifts under pressure was instructive of the work she has been doing with her young defenders. Gibbs told her young charge to keep her body positioning strong "you're still doing this rag-doll business", to which Thayer questioned, "Am I?". "Yes, or I wouldn't be telling you," responded Gibbs, glaring down the nose of her glasses. Lesson learned for the youngster.
Acting on the advice of her coach, Thayer went on to be one of the best-performing defenders in the competition in round two, placing second in the league power rankings behind the Magic's de Bruin.
The ANZ Championship posted a video last week with some of the players' predictions of which teams would contest this year's grand final. The video was promptly shared by all the franchises on their social media channels - all except the Steel. Could that be because Steel captain Jodi Brown was the only player not to pick her side to be in the grand final? Even Tactix captain Anna Thompson claimed her team would be at the big show this year, if a little unconvincing in her delivery.
For the record, Brown is tipping the Vixens and Pulse to be in the the title decider, which was probably the most honest answer given. The Pulse seemed to be the most picked team, with Mystics captain Maria Tutaia expecting to meet the Pulse in the final, while Thunderbirds defender Rebecca Bulley also tipping her side to meet the team from the Capital in the decider. Pulse captain Katrina Grant is picking the "Pulse and the Pulse" for the final, which might explain why they're struggling to get over themselves this season.
News from across the Ditch...
Swifts hit by injury
Pre-season favourites the NSW Swifts are the first team to be hit by serious injury this year, losing highly-rated young midcourter Paige Hadley to a torn ACL. The Swifts are still mulling over their options for a permanent replacement.
The Mystics can take some solace in the fact they're not the only much-hyped side failing to fire early in the season. The revamped West Coast Fever have been disappointing in their opening two clashes, blowing an opportunity against the Swifts in their opening match before being comprehensively dismantled by the Vixens last weekend.
Medhurst cut above
But there are much bigger concerns at the Fever's camp in Perth. Australian goal attack Natalie Medhurst's new pixie-like haircut appears to have polarised fans, with many shocked that a female - and a beautiful one at that - would dare sport such a short style. Inner Circle has consulted several style gurus on the matter and they are in unanimous agreement that Medhurst's cut is on trend and she has the bone structure to pull off what can be an unforgiving style.
Golden bib, round 2
Shooter - Mwai Kumwenda (Tactix) 147 points
Midcourter - Madison Robinson (Vixens) and Brooke Miller (Swifts) 111 points
Defender - Leana de Bruin (Magic) 84 points