The Northern Mystics have drawn first blood in the battle for Auckland netball supremacy, toppling crosstown rivals the Stars in Manukau tonight.
The Mystics, winless from the opening two rounds of the ANZ Premiership, had too much power and pace for their newly established neighbours, claiming an impressive 14-goal win.
It was a disappointing first home outing for the Stars, who are determined to build a strong supporter base in the South Auckland community.
The match had all the makings of tense tussle - a smattering of international talent throughout the court; two sides desperate for points; and an intra-city rivalry. Add to that a Stars line-up featuring three players - Kayla Cullen, Sulu Fitzpatrick and Fa'amu Ioane - that defected from the Mystics last season and expectations for the contest were high.
But from the outset the on-court contest failed to live up to the one presented on paper, with the Mystics racing out to a 7-1 lead midway through the opening spell.
The Stars attack could not seem to find a way through the long levers of Anna Harrison and Storm Purvis in a messy opening period, with young shooter Maia Wilson getting pinned down in-goal.
The slow start forced Stars coach Julie Hoornweg to go to her bench early, injecting Fijian import Afa Rusivakula at goal attack, with Malia Vaka moving back to the goal shoot bib in place of Wilson. The faster, more mobile pairing of Rusivakula and Vaka helped open the Stars shooting circle up and accelerate their scoring rate, but the hosts still found themselves staring down a 16-7 deficit at the break.
That deficit soon blew out further in the second period as the Mystics attack, buoyed by their fast start, showed confidence in moving the ball through the court. With Maria Tutaia seemingly unstoppable from long-range, the Mystics had forged out a 32-19 lead by halftime.
The Mystics confidence was replaced by complacency after the break as the inevitable fightback from Stars seemed to catch the visitors by surprise.
Cullen set the tone for the quarter with an impressive piece of speed and footwork, intercepting a bounce pass on the fly to give her side a much needed early turnover. The early break helped the Stars out to a 9-4 start to the spell, before the Mystics finally settled back into the game.
The hosts still managed to win what descended into a niggly third quarter, closing the gap to 44-33 at the final turn.
The Stars hopes of closing that gap further were extinguished when midcourter Emma Iverson, who had been one of their steadiest performers all night, limped off the court with what looked to be an ankle injury - a frustrating blow for a side that has more than their fair share of injury issues to deal with early on in the competition. The set-back forced a reshuffle of the Stars midcourt, with Vaka forced out to wing attack.
Having established a comfortable lead, Mystics coach Helene Wilson took the opportunity to introduce some of her bench players in the match with shooter Tera-Maria Amani and young defender Tauhi Lopeti making their first ANZ Premiership appearances.