Mystics Grand Final win provides perfect send-off for Fitzpatrick
In a fitting farewell, captain Sulu Fitzpatrick bowed out in style after leading the MG Mystics to a dominant 74-56 win over the Robinhood Stars in the 2023 ANZ Premiership Grand Final in Hamilton on Sunday.
In the first all-Auckland Grand Final, played at the neutral venue of GLOBOX Arena, the Mystics doubled their title count following their first-ever national domestic title in 2021. On the flip-side, the Stars, once again, missed out on the silverware after appearing in their third Grand Final following two previous losses in 2022 and 2019.
In her 154th and final national league appearance, the widely-respected Fitzpatrick, who leaves a strong legacy, played her role expertly in helping the minor premiers ice the cake with a dominant close to the season.
Equalling their highest score in a 60-minute match, Mystics were an unstoppable force spearheaded by outstanding shooter Grace Nweke, who equalled her highest individual score in a 60-minute match with a personal haul of 70 goals.
The Stars reshuffled personnel and tried in vain to stem the tide but were unable to breach the superior play of their opponents, who had the luxury of getting all 11 of their game-day team on court.
In the only real talking point surrounding the starting sevens, the Stars opted for the imposing presence of Kelera Nawai-Caucau at goalkeeper to take on the 1.93m Nweke.
The Mystics set the tone from the first whistle, scoring the first three goals inside 90 seconds with a pacey and clinical showing on attack. With centre Tayla Earle and goal attack Filda Vui providing the space and execution, the Mystics had little trouble getting the ball into Nweke’s hands.
Trailing by five prompted changes from the Stars with Holly Fowler replacing Elle Temu at goal defence, three goals on the trot getting them back into the contest.
Stars captain Maia Wilson was prominent with her positional play and accuracy under the hoop in a high-quality high-scoring first quarter between the two best attacking teams in the league meaning few defensive gains as the Mystics hit the first break with a 21-17 lead.
With Temu back on at goalkeeper for the Stars, a goal-for-goal stand-off marked the start of the second stanza. Through strong team defence, the Stars won a rare but vital turnover to close the gap to two.
Remaining calm and composed, the Mystics hit back in telling fashion, the defensive abilities of Phoenix Karaka and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson helping the team in blue score four in a row to remain in control.
Chasing the game and under constant pressure, the Stars had some wobbly moments, the Mystics showing their ability to score quickly when racing out to a nine-goal advantage. Punishing on attack, the Mystics finished the second 15 minutes with three in a row to march to a handy 38-29 lead at the main break.
In a nod to the future, rising young defender Carys Stythe took over from Fitzpatrick at goalkeeper after the break, but it was the Stars who stormed out of the blocks on the resumption, a 5-1 start offering a glimmer of hope.
However, whenever the Stars threatened, the Mystics were able to absorb and punch on while dominating any loose possession. Sweeping through court with ease while having the safety of prolific shooter Nweke roaming under their hoop provided little respite for the Stars.
In a last ditch bid to stop the rot, the Stars rejigged their defence line against their ever-dominant cross-town rivals, Nweke notching her 50th goal of the match on the stroke of three-quarter time to push the Mystics out to a 54-45 advantage at the last turn.