Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Playoff race coming down to the wire

Mystics defender Anna Harrison attempts to block a shot from the Swifts. Photo / Doug Sherring
Mystics defender Anna Harrison attempts to block a shot from the Swifts. Photo / Doug Sherring

Swifts 59
Mystics 53

Thunderbirds 58
Tactix 55

The one remaining spot in the New Zealand conference play-offs will come down to a winner-take-all final round shoot-out between the Northern Mystics and Mainland Tactix next weekend.

After average seasons, both sides sprung to life today as both came close to pulling off unlikely upsets against their Australian opposition, before ultimately falling short.

The Tactix were narrowly edged by the Thunderbirds in Adelaide, denying them their first win on Australian soil in what was likely their final opportunity to do so with the ANZ Championship to be disestablished at the end of this season.

The Mystics meanwhile put up a valiant fight against the NSW Swifts in today's later game, having the Australian conference leaders rattled for all but the final five minutes of the match, when injuries and the pace of the game took its toll on the homeside.

With neither side able to collect any points over the weekend, the final round meeting between the pair will determine who joins the high-flying Southern Steel and middling Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in the New Zealand conference finals.

Mystics shooter Cathrine Tuivaiti, who was one of the stand-outs in a spirited team effort, believes if her side can produce the same intensity and effort as they did against the Swifts, they should nail the third spot in the play-offs.

"We now know what we are capable of. Today we were finally able to put out on court the game style we have been trying to produce all year, so now we need to do it again next week and do it for 60 minutes," she said.

Despite the scoreline blowing out to six goals over the final few minutes, today's game was possibly the Mystics' best performance of the season.

With their season on the line, the Mystics opened with a desperation and intensity that has largely been lacking from the Auckland side this season. They were creative, but controlled, on attack, bringing precision and accuracy to their dynamic ball movement. They also brought an attacking mindset on defence, challenging every pass from the Swifts.

Heading into the final quarter with the scores locked at 41-all, the Mystics looked to be on the verge of an unlikely victory over the competition heavyweights. But the star-studded Swifts line-up, which included veteran Silver Ferns midcourter Laura Langman, had the depth and composure to push through when the heat came on in frantic closing stages.

A perfect storm of injuries in the midcourt and defensive end, which meant a constant string of changes to juggle the limited workloads of Kayla Cullen, Holly Fowler and Nadia Loveday, hampered the Mystics down the stretch as the quickly ran out of options on the bench.

But Mystics coach Debbie Fuller was reluctant to blame the injury predicament, instead pointing to a lack of awareness in crucial moments as costing her side a breakthrough victory.

Langman, who yesterday made her first appearance at The Trusts Stadium since defecting across Tasman in the offseason, said the fast and furious hit-out was just what her side needed heading into the play-offs.

"I was really impressed that we were able to keep our discipline and score when we needed to, setting ourselves up nicely for what will be another grind next week against the Steel," she said.

The Swifts can cement their place atop the Australian conference ladder with a win over the as yet unbeaten Steel next weekend.

- NZ Herald

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