Grand Final hopes remain for jubilant Mystics
An under fire Northern Mystics side has come from behind to end the unbeaten run of Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse in the ANZ Premiership.
The jubilant Mystics ended a 10-game winning streak from the defending champions, beating the Pulse 44-42 at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua on Sunday night.
The four competition points were crucial for the Mystics as they keep their sights set on a Grand Final berth and their two-goal victory is timely with just two rounds remaining.
The northerners’ consistency has been questioned in recent weeks, following a loss to the Steel and a narrow win over the Magic, but they delivered in Porirua finishing strongly – the 14-7 fourth quarter score getting them home.
Shooter Grace Nweke was again outstanding for the Mystics, getting the better of Kelly Jury late in the match and netting 38 of her team’s goals, while at the other end of the court captain Phoenix Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick were smothering on defence.
The dogged defence rattled the unflappable Pulse shooting circle with three missed attempts in the fourth quarter allowing the Mystics to gain momentum.
And the battle in the mid was eventually won by Peta Toeava who saw off strong challenges from Karin Burger and Claire Kersten – her quick release to Nweke key in the Mystics’ fortunes.
Toeava received an early warning from the officials but it did little to dampen her drive as she and Tayla Earle got the upper hand up front.
The Pulse, who was pleased to be playing in front of a home crowd for the first time this season, absorbed early pressure from the Mystics and surged late in the first quarter to go up by two goals, leading 10-8 at the break.
Playing at speed through court, the Mystics found it easier to find Nweke without the defensive pressure over the ball – both Toeava and Earle delivering on the instructions from coach Helene Wilson to lift their intensity.
But the assured play and patience of the Pulse up front gave them another edge as they went into the main break with a 23-20 lead.
There were more personnel changes for the Mystics heading into the third quarter with Saviour Tui replacing Filda Vui in the shooting circle while the Pulse also went to the bench with Tiana Metuarau coming on for Maddy Gordon on the wing.
With only three goals between the two teams, all eyes were on the Mystics to see whether they could remain in-step with the competition leaders.
A four-goal lead suggested the Pulse was ready to pounce but a desperate Mystics side, led by Karaka and Fitzpatrick, was not ready to lie down.
Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie looked to stem the flow of ball into Nweke with Gordon returning to the fray, in the centre role, and Claire Kersten replacing Burger on the wing.
A couple of outstanding links from Metuarau to Aliyah Dunn caught the Mystics on the hop as the four-goal buffer was reinstated.
Burger’s time on the bench was brief as another reshuffle was required following Ameliaranne Ekenasio’s going to the sideline due to blood, Metuarau moving into the shooting circle.
And the Pulse edged further ahead to go into the fourth quarter with a 35-30 advantage as Ekenasio returned to the goal attack role and Metuarau swinging back to the wing.
Two quick goals in succession kept the Mystics in the hunt as their confidence up front continued to grow and the scores were locked with just over five minutes on the clock.
The defensive pressure on the Pulse’s shooting combination was telling as the hosts were forced into error and the Mystics capitalised at the other end.