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Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel v MG Mystics – Round 10 - May 6, 2023

It was a remarkable fightback from the brink of despair but the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel still fell short 65-55 against the MG Mystics in Auckland tonight.

The Mystics were forced to repel a resurgent challenge before eventually subduing the gritty Steel.

Netball pundits rated it ‘mission impossible’ for the Steel to topple the ANZ Premiership leaders – and it must have felt like that initially for the embattled southerners.

The Mystics juggernaut unleashed from the opening phase of the game – the trademark long bombs into towering shooter Grace Nweke reaping the expected reward on the scoreboard.

After a first quarter 19-9 thrashing, the Steel regained composure and did enough to dent the confidence of the home side.

Starring down a 12-goal halftime deficit, a courageous Steel emerged from the changing room and set about rectifying the situation, finding flow on attack to earn their way back within five goals in the latter stages of the encounter.

Perhaps the truest reflection of Steel’s performance stems not from the scoreboard but from the game stats – an impressive nine intercepts in particular testament to the team’s fight.

In the penalty stakes, the 50 chalked up by the Mystics compared to just 25 for the Steel demonstrates the relentless pressure they faced with every pass contested.

Captain Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit told Sky Sport she was proud of her team’s effort.

“That first half probably wasn’t our best but to see how we came out in the second half was very pleasing. To see the team lift and not just go down and lose by 20 or 30, it shows how much we’ve grown this year.

“Mystics are such a good team and they are very hard to come back against. When you drop, they just punish you. You think you’re down by six and the next minute you’re down by 12.

“I’m just so proud of our attackers and their growth from game to game. Saviour was amazing – just the way she’s taking the ball and looking straight to the hoop and confidently shooting it makes me really happy.”

Selby-Rickit was confident a win was looming.

“I think that makes us a very dangerous team because first, no one wants to lose to us, and second, we are the ones who could take someone out of the top three. We love that and it’s our challenge to get that points table rocking a bit.”

Mystics captain Sulu Fitzpatrick praised her opponents.

“I think the Steel were awesome tonight. They were strong across the board and they’ve grown since the last time we played them – they’re a different team. It was a good test for us,” she said.

The Mystics ticked all the boxes in style with a comprehensive and dominant opening quarter to leave an ominous outlook for the Steel. But the visitors, in what has been a challenging season, showed their fighting qualities to bring a real element of excitement to the following three quarters.

Keeping the Mystics honest in the second quarter, the Steel won the third and came out with a hiss and roar to start the fourth before the home side slipped into top gear to eventually ease to a comfortable win.

It was a creditable effort from the southerners but the Mystics showed their class, holding their composure in a spirited final quarter to retain their spot at the top of the table. With plenty of firepower in all areas of the court, the Mystics had the polish to finish off the job, the Steel left ruing a horror first quarter.

In a notable milestone, Fitzpatrick lined up for her 150th national league match with Katie Te Ao stepping into centre in the absence of Tayla Earle, who was unavailable for this match.

The visitors presented with their familiar line-up of recent weeks, a fit-again Tui getting the start at goal shoot and Renee Savai’inaea being retained at wing attack.

Responding to their skipper’s special milestone, the Mystics were quick and slick from the outset while racing out to an early 6-1 lead.

Fluid through court, with their midcourt finding the shooters on a consistently regular basis, the home side were just as effective at the defence end. Fitzpatrick, Phoenix Karaka and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson provided an almost brick-like resistance.

To compound the constant pressure, the Steel struggled to convert the opportunities that came their way with the Mystics completing a dominant opening stanza with a high-scoring 19-9 lead.

The Steel made a much better fist of the second spell, with wing defence Sam Winders and goal keep Kate Burley snapping up intercept opportunities while the scoring margins improved a little under the hoop.

The visitors still faced an uphill slog getting the ball circle-bound which was quite the reverse for the home side. Peta Toeava continued her intuitive connection with shooter Nweke, who returned a perfect 27 from 27 for the first half with fine support from Filda Vui.

Losing the quarter by just two goals was a vast improvement for the Steel but the Mystics held all the cards when leading 33-21 at the main break.

The Steel’s fortunes changed dramatically in an impressive third quarter showing. With more traditional wing attack Ivari Christie taking over from Savai’inaea, the visitors found their spark on attack through greater ball movement and placement.

Shooter Tui also stepped up, finding her range more consistently under the Steel hoop, a run of five straight goals giving the visitors the best of starts with a 9-3 advantage. As a result, the Steel enjoyed their most product quarter of the match out-scoring the Mystics 18-14.

Going off the boil and losing ball to soft turnovers, the Mystics still held a handy advantage but were not in a totally comfortable position when leading 47-39 at the last turn.

Shooting Stats - Steel:

Saviour Tui 41/51 (80%)
Georgia Heffernan 12/17 (71%)
Jess Allan 2/3 (67%)

Shooting Stats - Mystics:

Grace Nweke 53/58 (91%)
Filda Vui 12/16 (75%)

MVP: Saviour Tui


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