The Central Pulse have reaffirmed their status as the team to beat in the ANZ Premiership.
The defending champions went up against the Mainland Tactix – tipped by many to be their main contenders for the title this season – and proved they are still the competition front-runners, claiming a 53-41 victory in Christchurch.
The Tactix did provide a stern test, in the first half at least, with the score level at 22 at the break, but the Pulse, led by star shooters Aliyah Dunn (35/38) and Ameliaranne Ekenasio (18/22), pulled away in the third quarter and extended their lead in the final period to record a comfortable win.
The match was also notable for the return of two Silver Ferns defenders. Temalisi Fakahokotau was back for the Tactix after missing the entire 2019 season with a ruptured ACL, playing the entire game, while Kelly Jury made her return after a significant stint on the sidelines with a shoulder injury, and in her first game with the Pulse, the former Magic goal keep snared two intercepts in her two quarters on-court.
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Also off to a winning start are the Northern Mystics, who took down the Northern Stars 59-55 in their Auckland derby.
Eighteen-year-old Grace Nweke led the way for the Mystics, sinking 40 of 43 attempts at goal, as the hosts managed to hold a slender lead through the entirety of the contest. The Stars never led, but also never saw their deficit eclipse seven goals, as rising Silver Ferns shooter Maia Wilson matched Nweke, hitting 40 of 45 of her attempts.
One Wilson goal saw the Stars – who were down 18-11 in the first quarter – level the scores to begin the final period, but they couldn't gain the ascendancy, as the Mystics reeled off a 12-5 run to seal an eventually comfortable win.
Expectations this season for the Mystics were tempered by the season-ending Achilles injury to Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, but their defensive combination of Phoenix Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick has promise, and goal attack Saviour Tui stepped up late to assist Nweke, as a key contributor to the victory.
The Stars, surprise finalists last season, pushing the Pulse close in the final, are unlikely to repeat their efforts in 2020, after several significant off-season departures.
The other two teams in the competition - both with realistic ambitions of making the top three - clash tomorrow night, as the Southern Steel host the improved Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in Dunedin.