ANZ Premiership: Southern Steel overthrows mystics of the Lazy North
Shane Wenzlick / Photosport
Mystics’ attack on goal Bailey Mes, in his 100th national championship game, wins the ball against Steel on Sunday.
Southern Steel ruined the celebrations for Bailey Mes’s 100th National Championship game with a memorable away win over the Mystics.
Led by remarkable displays from captain Shannon Saunders and English shooter George Fisher, the Steel bolstered their top three prospects of the final with a 63-58 victory in Auckland on Sunday.
The Steel were said to have been delighted with their performance after a below par 60-50 loss at their stronghold Stadium Southland to the resurgent Tactix on Monday.
In contrast, the Mystics, who came second on the table, were reportedly determined to secure a victory in the 100th Silver Ferns Veterans National Championship game, but that did not happen. Defender Kate Burley was also playing her 50th national championship game.
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Mes, who spent most of his career with the Mystics, starting in 2011, also played 26 games for the Tactix.
The Mystics would have been bitterly disappointed with their performance, conceding 63 goals, which will make it difficult to win games, even with their team scoring the most.
They were guilty of doing too many turnovers, especially in the third striker, trying to pass the ball into Grace Nweke’s goal.
The Mystics also converted only 80% of their attempts (58/72), compared to the Steel, who registered 63 of their 71 opportunities. It doesn’t get any easier with an all-Auckland derby against the top stars next Sunday.
Saunders, attacking goal Tiana Metuarau and center Renee Savai’inaea all had good offensive games, shooting an excellent ball on Fisher, who converted 47 of 52. Metuarau was a reliable foil for Fisher again, landing 16 / 19.
This clash had the makings of a high score with both shots on goal, Nweke (Mystics) and Fisher (Steel) entering the round as the most prolific shooters in the competition.
The hosts headed into the sixth (32-26) halftime with Fisher gaining the upper hand over Ferns goalie Sulu Fitzpatrick in the first half, racking up 25 goals on 27 attempts.
The Mystics got off to a good start, scoring the first three goals, but the Steel began to find their cohesion on offense, picking up the rolling ball as well.
After a slow start, Steel had the upper hand for most of the first quarter with Saunders and Metuarau sending net flows to Fisher.
Fisher landed 12 of 14 first-quarter attempts as the Steel gained a 17-11 advantage.
The Steel pushed their lead to 23-15 early in the second quarter, with the Southerners playing netball in attack and defense.
After a sloppy start to the game, the Mystics finally woke up and finished the first half with confidence, scoring several quick goals.
Steel coach Reinga Bloxham has chosen to start Kate Heffernan in wing defense rather than center, where she has mostly been used this season.
Heffernan’s 1.81m lead was an asset against the attacking wing of Mystics Peta Toeva, who is just 1.61m tall but is a fast player and a superb feeder for Nweke.
It had an immediate effect with the Mystics making eight first-quarter turnovers, five coming from Toeava.
The Mystics gave the Steel several mini-runs in the third quarter, but couldn’t put enough of a dent in their lead.
They trailed by seven goals (50-43) leading in the final 15 minutes, leaving them with a big task to overcome.
Two quick goals to open the fourth term gave the Mystics a glimmer of hope. The Steel kept its cool to cement a deserved victory.
IN ONE LOOK:
Steel 63 (George Fisher: 47/52, Tiana Metuarau: 16/19) Mystics 58 (Grace Nweke: 52/61, Bailey Mes: 6/9, Filda Vui: 0/2) 1Q: 17-11, HT: 32-26, 3Q: 50-43.
Stuff points MVP: Shannon Saunders 3, Taneisha Fifita 2, George Fisher 1.