Cross-town rivalry proved it is alive and well, a strong start and finish helping the Northern Mystics post a 51-47 win over the Robinhood Northern Stars win in a riveting contest at the Auckland Netball Centre on Friday.
The Mystics mirrored the four-goal win of the first clash between the pair in Round 1, played in March, to wrap up the Barfoot & Thompson Challenge which the two teams contest each season.
The Mystics much-vaunted defence brought the team home in style with a forceful run to the line after they trailed by one with 12 minutes remaining. Starting and finishing in dominant mode was enough for the Mystics, the Stars having the better of the middle stages but in the end having to settle for a bonus point.
Towering teenaged shooter Grace Nweke was back in the starting line-up for the Mystics after coming off the bench last week, teaming up with Saviour Tui, who got her first start at goal attack for the season. For the Stars, Fa’amu Ioane regained her starter’s spot at wing defence after being introduced from the bench in the last couple of weeks.
After a slow start, the Mystics flexed their considerable prowess through the middle stages of the opening stanza.
Levelling up the scores, the Mystics went on a productive run. The defensive authority of Sulu Fitzpatrick and Phoenix Karaka got the upper hand over the Stars shooters while at the other end, the instinctive connection between midcourt dynamo Peta Toeava and Nweke gave the Mystics the upper hand.
Receiving a knock, Tui was forced from the court but the introduction of Filda Vui, on debut, did little to dent the Mystics swagger. The Stars were able to eat into the six-goal deficit but it was the Mystics who held a 15-11 advantage at the first break.
The Stars made the perfect response on the resumption, rattling in a succession of unanswered goals to get themselves right back into the contest. Goal attack Jamie Hume was a strong presence in opening up space in the circle, providing the perfect foil for the in-form Maia Wilson under the hoop.
Turnovers dried up a little as both teams maintained better possession and once the Stars had levelled up the scores, it was a neck-and-neck struggle for the remainder of the quarter.
On the big stage for the first time, Vui continued to impress with her poise and calm demeanour in the hustle and bustle of the Mystics shooting circle, Stars defenders Storm Purvis and Kate Burley doing an admirable job in keeping the quick-scoring Nweke in check.
Neither side could fully capitalise on mini momentum swings with the Mystics nudging to a narrow 26-25 lead at the main break.
The Mystics made a raft of changes for the third quarter, including the return of Tui, the injection of Emily Burgess at wing defence and Fitzpatrick and Karaka switching their in-circle defensive positions but it was the Stars who had the better reward.
The teams played with contrasting styles, the Mystics happy to continue with their long-range passing game through Toeava and Tayla Earle while the Stars were a model of patience on attack which paid dividends.
Centre Mila Reuelu-Buchanan was an ever constant for the Stars at both ends of the court while Hume and Wilson continued to have the better of the Mystics defenders. A goal-for-goal arm-wrestle highlighted the third quarter, the Stars refusing to take a backward step as they turned the halftime tables to lead 39-38 at the final turn.