Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Inner Circle: Mystics and Steel go head-to-head

Geva Mentor of the Melbourne Vixens in action. Photo / Getty Images
Geva Mentor of the Melbourne Vixens in action. Photo / Getty Images

Mystics

Brace yourselves for a high-scoring shoot-out when the Mystics and Steel go head-to-head this weekend.

Last time the two sides met the match was reduced to a shooting competition between Cathrine Latu and Steel import Jhaniele Fowler-Reid and a similar offensive-oriented game is expected in Auckland on Sunday. While the 1.98m Jamaican is leading the competition's shooting statistics in volume and accuracy, Latu has been in strong form, winning the golden bib award in round nine after shooting 43 from 46 against the Tactix last weekend.

The Silver Fern also had the edge the last time the two sides met, producing a flawless 46/46 effort.

Regardless of whether Latu can produce the same touch this weekend, the New Zealand selectors will be feeling much more comfortable with their shooting options now than they would have been at the start of the season, when the Mystics' pairing of Latu and Maria Tutaia were shooting at below 65 per cent for the first couple of games.

Pulse

She only knows one speed on the court, and it appears Liana Leota only knows one speed in getting back to action post-pregnancy. Fast.

Five weeks after giving birth to daughter Karney in the UK, the former Silver Fern was back playing ANZ Championship netball for the Pulse. Leota was introduced at halftime in the Pulse's loss to the Melbourne Vixens last weekend, bringing a more up-tempo dynamic to the attack end. The nippy midcourter inspired a comeback of sorts from the Pulse, as they narrowed a 10-goal halftime deficit back to three before the Vixens pulled away again.

Leota admits she still has a way to go before she is back to full fitness. But that hasn't stopped her eyeing a return to the Ferns for the Commonwealth Games.

Next year's World Cup in Sydney may be a more realistic target but given she has already shown incredible willpower to get back on court so soon, you can't rule her out of contention for the Glasgow team just yet. Selectors name the Games team next month.

Magic

The Magic will get their second shot against the only team to beat them so far this season, the Pulse, in Porirua on Monday night.

Their round six encounter in Hamilton, in which the Wellington side triumphed 56-53 in extra time, remains one of the games of the season with the match tightly contested throughout.

While the Pulse desperately need a win to keep their top four chances afloat, don't underestimate the determination in the Magic camp.

They were stung by the defeat earlier in the season, and are coming off a disappointing performance against the Adelaide Thunderbirds. The Magic were lucky to escape last week's match with the two points, having looked disjointed and out of sorts against the defending champions.

Shooter Ellen Halpenny will especially be feeling the pressure to perform on Monday night following two quiet games. But Halpenny can take some confidence from her last outing against the Pulse, in which she clearly got under the defenders' skins.

Tactix

By the end of the season, there won't be a team in the league that hasn't on one occasion thought, privately at least, they were robbed.

The Tactix have the most solid claim to be the unluckiest team this year, after they were denied their second win of the season last week by a suspect umpiring decision. Leading the Mystics by two goals with 20 seconds left on the clock, the Tactix looked to have pulled off a boilover in Christchurch. But the Mystics regained possession when Tactix midcourter Keshia Grant toppled offside, with the help of Laura Langman, and quickly moved the ball down the other end of the court to level the score. The Tactix stood by shell-shocked as the Mystics then snatched the win, converting their next centre pass.

Tactix fans were understandably aggrieved by the late call, particularly when the Canterbury side had played the better netball for most of the match. But if an umpire doesn't see how a player went offside, they can't just simply deduce they were pushed. All they can rule on is the offside.

Steel

Tactix fans can rest assured the Southern Steel won't be letting the Mystics forget about last week's controversy any time soon.

The Steel have been busy winding up their northern rivals with some gentle ribbing on social media ahead of this weekend's clash in Auckland. The two sides have a bit of history of engaging in pre-match trash talk on Twitter ahead of matches, with Mystics shooter Cathrine Latu forced to intervene ahead of their last meeting in Invercargill before the bad jokes about Invercargill's wide streets and love of country music got out of hand.

In an effort to kick off the next round, the Mystics this week tweeted: "Mystics Nation lets show those Southerners how its done #wittybantertocome".

To which the Steel responded "We'd be happy to let rip with some witty banter so long as we don't get offside".

Round one to the Steel.

Across the ditch

Vixens unstoppable

Although five rounds still remain, ANZ Championship organisers will likely be pencilling in the 2014 grand final for Melbourne as the Vixens continue to set the pace in the competition. Last week's trip to Wellington loomed as a potential banana skin for the Vixens, but the Melbourne side rarely looked troubled against the Pulse as they went on to record an impressive win. Defence pairing dominantA key part of the Vixens' success this year is their outstanding defensive pairing of Geva Mentor and Bianca Chatfield. The Vixens have the best defensive record in the competition, restricting their opponents to an average of 42.6 goals a match. Mentor has been in particularly dominant form - featuring in the top three of intercepts, deflections and rebounds.

Diamonds to be named

The Australian Diamonds team for the Commonwealth Games will be named next week following a three-day selection camp in Canberra. One of the newcomers tipped to be named in the line-up is Firebirds' midcourter Gabi Simpson. The impressive young wing-defence is posing stern competition for veteran and last year's Australian player of the year, Renae Hallinan, to retain her spot.

- NZ Herald

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