The Southern Steel edged the Northern Mystics in a thrilling high-scoring shoot-out at The Trusts Arena tonight.
The Auckland side did an impressive job of matching the prolific scoring power of the Steel, led by star import Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, for most of the match, only to be out-gunned in the final five minutes.
With little more than three goals separating the two sides for the first 55 minutes of the match, the Mystics would have been disappointed to let the visitors get away on them over the dying minutes as the Steel eked out a 74-67 win. The late lapse cost the home side a bonus point - one most would agree the Mystics deserved having battled hard all night.
The result sees the Steel move into a share of the lead with the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in the early stages of the ANZ Premiership.
Determined to shake the tag as perennial underdogs in the new elite netball league, the Mystics were bitterly disappointed with their opening round loss to the Central Pulse. The Mystics suffered a one-goal loss to the Pulse in a tense opening clash, after having a narrow edge for most of the match.
There was a lot to like about the Mystics' effort last night. They displayed their trademark flair on attack, with the interplay between midcourter Elisapeta Toeava and Maria Tutaia producing some particularly stunning moments. But they also demonstrated a clinical approach and patience that has not often been associated with the Mystics.
The home side offered strong variety on attack, picking their moments to look long into Bailey Mes back at goal shoot.
The Mystics attacking unit needed to be slick. They faced a massive challenge to match the scoring power of the Steel, who boast one of the best strike weapons in the competition in Jamaican import Fowler-Reid.
As expected, Fowler-Reid dominated the shooting stats, sinking 59 shots at goal. But she was well-down on her usual accuracy rate, going at 77 per cent in the first half, largely due to the toil of veteran defender Anna Harrison. Frustratingly for Harrison, the 1.98m Fowler-Reid was able to pull in the bulk of the rebounds.
With the scraps so hard to come by, the pressure was on the Mystics to capitalise on any defensive gains.
They showed a strong resolve to do so from the outset, as the Auckland side snuck out to a 7-4 lead after just a few minutes as the Steel had a few uncharacteristic early
miscommunications around the shooting circle.
The well-drilled Steel outfit, who managed to retain their starting seven from last season, soon found their flow, making the most of a few early shooting wobbles from Tutaia to get their noses in front by the first break.
Trailing 18-16 at quartertime, the Mystics refused to let the visitors get away on them in the second spell, showing a renewed sense of urgency after the break to stalk out to a two-goal lead five minutes into the period.
The Mystics outscored the Steel 19-18 for the quarter, but the Southerners still had a one-goal lead at the long break.
Given both sides were clinical with their execution, the winning and losing of the match was going to come down to the small moments in the second half. It was Francois that seized the momentum for her side, deflecting a Mystics feed into the circle with a good three-foot mark. The resulting pick-up and goal gave the visitors a three-goal lead heading into the final five minutes and you could sense the Mystics' heads drop at that point.