ANZ Premiership playoff hypotheticals
ALTHOUGH no ANZ Premiership playoffs will be held on Sunday due to COVID-19 precautions, Draft Central poses some hypotheticals taking into account recent form and history to predict the end result of each game, which would have completed the 2020 season. The original setup would have seen the third placed Northern Mystics take on the fourth placed Northern Stars while the last placed Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic booked a date with fifth on the ladder, Southern Steel.
NORTHERN MYSTICS (3rd) v. NORTHERN STARS (4th)
R1: Stars (55) defeated by Mystics (59)
R6: Mystics (51) defeated Stars (47)
The Mystics have had the wood over the Stars in their past two encounters, winning by four goals each time and making it a tough but not impossible task for the Stars heading into the clash. Falling agonisingly short of a top two spot after a couple of disappointing losses towards the backend of the season, the Northern Mystics would have been hoping to get some reward for their stellar season and hold onto third spot. They stunned the competition in 2020 with their youth taking a step up while 2019 grand finalists Northern Stars would have been hoping to end their season on a high after somewhat of a rollercoaster year.
How it could have gone down
Given their recent dominance against the Stars and the firepower they have across the court, it is fair to suggest that the game would have ended in the Mystics’ favour. Australian Emily Burgess has been a solid option in wing defence for the Mystics given her hands over pressure and speed off the mark while the switch up of Courtney Elliott into goal defence from wing defence has paid dividends with the defender hustling for every ball. Elliott can effectively ply her trade in either position and has a real desperation each time she steps out on court to regain possession and send the ball into attack making her potential match up against Stars captain Grace Kara exciting. The wing attack is a real leader for the Stars with her attack on circle edge, cleverly weighted passes into Wilson and strength to ward off defenders.
Peta Toeava has led the troops in attack throughout the season and has been busy in her past two outings against the Stars with Fa’amu Ioane unable to stop her lightning quick release into none other than Grace Nweke. Many would have expected that combination to be the breaking point for the Stars thanks to Nweke’s undeniable strength in the air and accuracy to post. However, announcing her retirement only days ago it is fair to say that Stars’ Storm Purvis would have left nothing to chance in her final game to push Nweke to her limits.
All eyes would have turned to the battle under the post between Maia Wilson for the Stars and the Mystics defence. Captain Phoenix Karaka has a strong record against the Stars with the goal defence able to use her experience and nous to dictate the flow of the game with her go get it mentality. Karaka is quite physical and is not afraid to contest each and every ball that comes her way partnering well with goal keeper Sulu Fitzpatrick in the defensive third. Fitzpatrick is a menace under the post with her constant niggle and clever footwork to get around the body of her opponent time and time again. Last time they met Fitzpatrick managed seven gains, an intercept and two rebounds to shut down the prolific Wilson under the post. Wilson is incredibly accurate and makes the most of her chances acting as the lynchpin for the Stars attacking unit while Jamie Hume has struggled in the past against the persistent Karaka.
Hypothetical MVP: Grace Nweke
SOUTHERN STEEL (5th) v. WAIKATO BAY OF PLENTY MAGIC (6th)
R1: Steel (48) defeated by Magic (54)
R6: Steel (41) defeated Magic (40)
The Steel were hit with injury after injury while the Magic struggled to find any continuity across the court. Last time these two sides met was back in Round 6 with the Steel getting over the line by the slimmest of margins while the encounter before that saw the Magic secure a six goal win. While the Magic only won the one match for the season, they displayed plenty of hunger and came close to wins on multiple occasions but were unable to clinch victory.
How it could have gone down
This game would have come down to pride and resilience with both teams faced with their fair share of challenges but building some strong form come the backend of the season. Sitting at one win apiece it was set to be an exciting encounter especially given the heightened stakes of not wanting to finish at the bottom of the ladder. But the devastating anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury to Holly Fowler would likely have tipped the odds into the Steel’s favour as the Magic would be forced to shake up their entire midcourt and defensive structure. With Ariana Cable-Dixon missing the latter half of the season after announcing her pregnancy the Magic would have had to bring in someone new for this game.
Captain Sam Winders was influential through the midcourt and really found her stride in centre using her defensive attributes to win ball back and then her speed and attacking mindset to swing into offence. She was likely to come up against the highly talented duo of Shannon Saunders and Gina Crampton in centre and wing attack respectively. The two have been relatively consistent throughout the season taking full advantage of their high level of endurance and experience to steer the ship. Kelsey McPhee, Abigail Latu-Meafou and Khiarna Williams steadily built a strong connection with Williams highlighting her versatility to move between goal shooter and goal attack and McPhee turning into a reliable source under the post. Youngster Taneisha Fifita has enjoyed the extra court time in 2020 and would have been a highly physical opponent for McPhee while Te Huinga Selby-Rickit has been the mainstay for the Steel and would have been hoping to once again lead her side to victory. Given the influx of injuries the Magic were faced with an uphill battle while the Steel had seemed to recover from the loss of Jennifer O’Connell and Kate Heffernan, making the most of their fresh faces.
Fowler found her feet out in wing defence allowing Erena Mikaere to ply her trade in goal defence and Georgia Tong in goal keeper to use her leap to get hands to ball. The potential match-up between Tong and Ellen Halpenny was set to be interesting as Halpenny got the chocolates last time they stepped out on court with her experience and class keeping Tong’s head on a swivel. Goal attack Kalifa McCollin was another one preparing for a big game with the shooter carving up the court with her silky footwork, spatial awareness and deadeye accuracy to post but had her work cut out for her against the long arms of Mikaere.
Hypothetical MVP: Kalifa McCollin