The new-look Northern Mystics produced a very familiar tale in their transtasman league season-opener tonight, suffering a one-goal defeat to the Southern Steel after holding a commanding lead in the late stages of the match.
Leading the Steel by seven goals with five minutes into the final quarter, the Mystics inexplicably let their advantage slip as the hungry young Steel side pounced on some careless errors by the homeside to pull off a thrilling win.
In a frantic final minute and a half, three Mystics defenders - Temalisi Fakahokotau, Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick and Anna Harrison - all received formal warnings by the umpire as they did everything they could to try and halt the Steel's momentum.
The Steel leveled the score at 57-all with 40 seconds remaining on the clock, but with the Mystics having the following centre pass, it looked as though the visitors' stirring comeback was going to fall just short.
But when they needed cool heads, the Mystics could not find any. The Steel midcourt defence, led by the tenacious Wendy Frew, cleverly swarmed around the ball-carrier to try and force a panicked pass. The strategy worked, with a feed from English midcourter meant for the shooting circle, finding the back of the court.
The Steel moved swiftly to get the ball back down court and claim the unlikely win courtesy of a Jhaniele Fowler-Read goal.
The result only further underlined the Mystics reputation for flakiness, which they are so desperately trying to shake off this year. The Auckland side are probably the team with the most to prove this season, having set the pace in the New Zealand conference in 2015 season, only to crumble when it came to the finals. They were determined to show they have a new hard-edged approach this year.
The Mystics starting line-up featured two debutants - 18-year-old Holly Fowler at goal defence, and impressive young midcourter Fa'amu Ioane at wing attack.
Mystics coach Debbie Fuller also made the interesting decision to start returning defender Anna Harrison at wing defence. The move appeared a ploy to restrict Steel midcourter and key ball distributor Gina Crampton's vision into the circle to limit the quick-release ball into Fowler-Reid, the Steel's towering Jamaican import.
The Auckland side led 4-1 early on, but by the end of the first spell the Steel had clawed their way into a 14-13 lead, despite shooting at just 67 per cent for the period.
The Mystics opened second quarter with a 5-2 surge to get their noses back in front. But they just as quickly let their advantage dissipate, with a lobbed cross-court pass easily gobbled up by Steel defender Jane Watson.
With their run broken, the Mystics got sucked back into an arm wrestle for the rest of the period, just managing to cling on to a 30-29 lead at the long break.
The home side made their move towards the end of the third quarter, taking a 45-41 lead into the final quarter and looked well on track to victory when they scored the first three goals after the break.