Inner Circle: Tutaia makes her 100th appearance

By Dana Johannsen

Maria Tutaia makes her 100th appearance on Monday when she captains the Mystics against the Fever in Auckland. Photo / Christine Cornege
Maria Tutaia makes her 100th appearance on Monday when she captains the Mystics against the Fever in Auckland. Photo / Christine Cornege

Mystics

Northern Mystics shooter Maria Tutaia will become the latest Silver Fern star to notch up 100 ANZ Championship appearances when she takes the court against the West Coast Fever on Monday. Tutaia, who spent her first two seasons in the league with the Magic, has not missed a game since the inception of the competition in 2008. She will be eager to mark the milestone with a win, as the Mystics look to finish an ordinary season on a more positive note. But joining the Mystics captain in reaching the milestone in Auckland is one of the game's other great goal attacks and Fever skipper, Natalie Medhurst - meaning only one player will go away from the match with fond memories of the occasion.

The parallels between the two star shooters don't end there. Both are leading talent-stacked sides that have failed to deliver on their immense promise, finding themselves out of the playoffs race early on to make a mockery of preseason predictions that they would be genuine title contenders.

Both Tutaia and Medhurst will be hoping for a much happier international season as they eye the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, which get under way just a month after the conclusion of the ANZ Championship season.

Magic

They share the Magic's shooting circle, a flat in Hamilton and now Jo Harten and Ellen Halpenny have been forced to share the ANZ Championship's golden bib award for the best shooting performance in round 12. The pair could not be separated on points after the Magic's impressive 74-56 win over the Tactix, in which they each split their court-time between goal shoot and goal attack after swapping bibs at halftime. Halpenny netted 34 from 36 with seven goal assists, one rebound and 11 centre pass receives, while Harten scored 40 from 44 with eight goal assists, two rebounds, 13 centre pass receives. But the stat Harten was most pleased with? Her one intercept - "it was my first one for the season, and probably ever," she joked.

The most pleasing aspect from the team's point of view would have been that they managed to crack the 70-goal mark, indicating they did a much better job at converting the turnover ball generated by their star defensive pairing of Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin.

It was a timely return to form for the Magic, who were looking increasingly shaky over the latter stages of the competition. But the real test is yet to come with the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side facing a difficult run into the playoffs. They take on coach Julie Fitzgerald's old side - the NSW Swifts - in Sydney this weekend, before returning home to face the Firebirds in Hamilton in the final round.

Pulse

The moment of truth has arrived for the Central Pulse as they chase a maiden playoff appearance. Currently fifth on the table, the Pulse will need to win at least one of their final two matches to have a chance of forcing their way into the top four. But realistically they will probably need to win both to get there. The problem is, both their remaining round robin clashes will be played across the Tasman, where they have yet to notch up a win in seven seasons. They meet the fourth-placed Firebirds in the Gold Coast this weekend before taking on the Fever in Perth in what will be an emotional occasion for the local side as coach Norma Plummer takes the reins for the final time.

The Pulse's previous performances against Australian sides this year don't give much hope that they can break their duck in the coming weeks. They buckled late in the game under the Thunderbirds' defensive pressure in the opening round, copped a towelling against the Swifts in Sydney, and were outplayed on their home court by the Vixens to contribute to their appalling record against the Australian sides. Over seven seasons the Pulse have won just five of their 33 matches against Australian sides in the ANZ Championship.

And yet some have suggested the Pulse will have the right to feel hard done by if they miss out on a place in the finals to the Magic - a team they have beaten twice this year. These pre-emptive claims of injustice seem to ignore the key difference between the two sides: one is capable of beating Australian teams, the other is not. You're not going to make the finals of the transtasman league if you can only beat teams from one country.

Tactix

Tactix coach Leigh Gibbs will lead her side for the final time on New Zealand soil this weekend when they take on the Steel in Dunedin. The veteran coach, who last week announced she would be stepping down at the end of the season, did not get the opportunity of a homecourt farewell, with the Tactix' final three games all on the road.

The Tactix are said to be casting their net far and wide to find a replacement for Gibbs and are not ruling out recruiting an Australian coach. But the most likely replacement is one that is closest to home, with strong support for former Tactix captain and now assistant coach Julie Seymour to take over the reins. The Canterbury netball stalwart has served as understudy at the franchise since 2010, and has beefed up her coaching experience with several development opportunities within the national programme. Seymour is currently in Adelaide with the New Zealand Secondary Schools team at the International Schoolgirls Netball Challenge.

There will likely be serious questions asked of the Tactix' development pathways if Seymour is overlooked for the role in favour of an overseas coach, with many critical of the franchise's decision to recruit Gibbs, a former Silver Ferns mentor, for the role three years ago instead of looking at an emerging coach.

Steel

Southland's most famous daughter is in the running for the region's top sports awards tonight. Yes, Southern Steel shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid has been named as a finalist in the senior sportsperson of the year category at the Southland Sports Awards. It seems the Jamaican international is now a bonafide local, rolling her Rrrrs and enjoying muttonbird and Bluff oysters for breakfast.

Few could argue she isn't deserving of recognition. The league's MVP last season, Fowler-Reid is once again the competition's most prolific scorer in 2014, scoring an average of 43 goals a game at 93.9 per cent accuracy.

The league's top scorers list will make for scary reading for the Silver Ferns and Australian coaching staff, with four of the top five spots occupied by imports. Fever shooter Caitlin Bassett is the only "local" player to feature in the top five, sneaking in at fourth place behind Fowler-Reid, Tactix star Mwai Kumwenda (Malawi) and the Magic's Jo Harten (England). New Zealand's top scorer is Mystics shooter Cathrine Latu, who is ranked sixth in the league with around 31 goals a game, just ahead of Irene van Dyk in seventh place.

But back to Fowler-Reid. Expect another stand-out performance from the 1.98m super-shooter in this weekend's showdown with the Tactix in Dunedin. Fowler-Reid has made a habit of taunting the Tactix defenders - she notched up a league record tally of 65 goals in both meetings with the Canterbury side last season, while in their round eight clash this year, she scored a season-high 60 goals in their 77-61 win.

- NZ Herald

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