Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel v MG Mystics - April 1, 2023
For a team seeking redemption, tonight’s 48-64 loss against the MG Mystics will feel like a proverbial kick in the guts for the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel.
If chalking up the positives, it was an energetic performance from the southerners who were clearly determined to contest every pass and change their fortunes against one of the ANZ Premiership powerhouses but alas weren’t rewarded for their unwavering tenacity.
A 26-goal drubbing ensued when the two sides met in the opening round so you can argue it was an improved showing – with the exception of a grim second phase which handed the Mystics a 12-goal advantage at halftime.
While the Steel had to slog it out for every gain, the Mystics took full advantage of their towering 1.93m not-so-secret weapon Grace Nweke. Kudos to Steel defender Kate Burley for never deviating from the daunting task of trying to restrict her impact.
For their efforts, the Mystics clinched the Georgina Salter Memorial Trophy for the first time since it was first contested in 2019 to honour the legendary coach, lifting the spoils in style to fittingly mark the start of the Premiership’s Heritage Round.
The Mystics inflicted the hefty defeat on the back of a rollicking second stanza and were masterful with their transition from defence onto attack early in the game.
But a determined Steel side rallied late in the third and fourth periods – led by defender Burley – remaining in the fight and shaving goals off the difference. Their biggest concern however was seeing young shooter Saviour Tui limp off early in the fourth quarter.
Missing injured leader Sulu Fitzpatrick, the visitors started with Phoenix Karaka at the back and Carys Stythe at goal defence. Michaela Sokolich-Beatson picked up the captaincy role for the match while Monica Falkner got the run at goal attack, delivering with an MVP performance.
Tui, who has been returning to play from injury, got another start for the hosts while Ivari Christie got the nod for the wing attack bib allowing Sam Winders to play at wing defence.
The Steel grabbed the first turnover of the game but were unable to convert – a familiar theme for the evening – and it was the Mystics who showcased their ability to score with speed, firing the ball into Grace Nweke.
The tussle between Mystics wing Peta Toeava and Steel’s Winders was always going to be the one to watch and the duo delivered, the former taking the edge early on as she contributed heavily to nine long feeds into Nweke.
Trailing by three goals with just over a minute to go in the opening spell, Burley went searching for a turnover outside of the circle and allowed the Steel to close the gap to 14-16 at the first break.
But the Mystics threatened early in the second quarter to extend their lead to six as a couple of errors from the Steel’s young attacking unit proved costly.
It was a change in gear from the visitors – the Mystics ability to punish with speed – as a string of seven goals silenced the Steel supporters in the stands.
Both teams made late changes in the half with Tui making way for Eseta Autagavaia for the Steel and the Mystics shuffling their defensive end as Sokolich-Beatson picked up the goal defence bib and Katie Te Ao came on to the wing.
It did little to stop the Mystics juggernaut as they raced out to a 35-23 halftime lead.
Steel coach Reinga Bloxham made a positional switch after the break with Winders moving to centre and Kate Heffernan taking the wing defence role while Tui returned to the shooting circle.
The Mystics also reverted to the defence line which started the match and despite a few errors starting to creep into their attacking game, the visitors maintained their buffer on the scoreboard.
Burley did her best to spark something into the Steel’s performance with a timely intercept at the mid-way point of the stanza but converting again proved the host’s Achilles heel as they were unable to chip away at the deficit.
Both teams made changes again late in the spell with Te Ao returning to the wing and Renee Savai’inaea making a rare appearance at wing attack for the Steel.
It was a stronger finish to the quarter from the hosts, going down by just two in the spell, but they still trailed 36-51 heading into the fourth stanza.
Shooting Stats - Steel:
Saviour Tui 22/31 (71%)
Georgia Heffernan 20/29 (69%)
Eseta Autagavaia 6/7 (86%)
Shooting Stats - Mystics:
Grace Nweke 47/48 (98%)
Monica Falkner 17/19 (90%)
Filda Vui 0/1 (0%)
MVP: Monica Falkner