A BLOCKBUSTER five-game round of action takes place this weekend in the ANZ Premiership with Round 9 kicking off tomorrow. Four of the six teams – Northern Mystics, Northern Stars, Mainland Tactix and Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic – all play back-to-back games over the weekend at Pulman Arena, whilst Southern Steel and Central Pulse meet in a Monday night epic in Dunedin.
With just four full rounds of actions left – and a sprinkling of rescheduled matches over the next month, it is a good time to check out the standings and how it looks in the run home to finals.
At the top of the table are the Northern Mystics, who take on the sixth placed Magic and fourth placed Stars this weekend. With six wins from eight games, the Mystics can put themselves in a terrific position to earn a double chance, with a superior goal difference to the Pulse, one extra win and a game in hand. With the Pulse having a tougher game against the Steel, it will be a great opportunity for the Mystics to put the foot down and charge towards the finals.
The defensive team of Sulu Fitzpatrick, Phoenix Karaka and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson has been superb, with rising talents Tayla Earle and Grace Nweke have played their role in midcourt and the shooting circle respectively, and are key reasons why the Mystics are travelling so well.
The Waikato Bay of Magic really need to get a move up the other end of he ladder, also taking on the Stars at Pulman Arena, before setting their sights on the Tactix in a bottom-two clash. It is far to say two losses in Round 9 will spell the end of finals hopes for the Magic, whom whilst they do have a game in hand on the rest of the competition – and up to two and three games in hand on the top two sides – sinking to 1-7 would be untenable for a finals run.
The shooting circle will be better for the run this season, with Bailey Mes and Ameliaranne Ekenasio being well managed, and Ivana Rowland gaining important court time. Erena Mikaere has been a shining light in defence for the Magic, but they have struggled to really get consistency ticking over through the midcourt.
Their second opponents the Tactix equally need a victory – or two – in order to be really considered a finals contender in the last month of the season. They are 2-5 from seven games, and cannot make too many blips if they are to force their way back into the top four. They will need to conjure a way to knock off the top of the table Mystics tomorrow to give themselves confidence heading into the backend of the year.
Kelera Nawai-Caucau and Karin Burger lead the side to its second win over Southern Steel midweek, and loom as keys in order to contain the opposition highly fancied shooters. Along with them, the midcourt pairing of Samon Nathan and Kimiora Poi has proved effective, with accuracy the key for the attack, particularly Te Paea Selby-Rickit who has been good at setting up Ellie Bird, but is only shooting at 79 per cent herself.
Speaking of inaccuracy, the Stars shot themselves in the foot a couple of matches ago against the Pulse before bouncing back to grab the win in their second showing, but accuracy is key in the matches against the Magic and Mystics. Maia Wilson (209 goals at 86 per cent efficiency) and Jamie Hume (114 at 72 per cent) have had their moments, but struggled from their usual accuracy, especially when the likes of Gina Crampton and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan have formed the most potent one-two punch when it comes to feeds into the circle, both ranking top five.
In the standalone Monday night game, and singular clash for both these sides, Southern Steel will lock horns with Central Pulse in a top three battle. One key will be looking at the feeds into the circle with Pulse’s Whitney Souness and Steel’s Shannon Saunders ranked clearly one and two this season thanks to 290 and 289 feeds respectively. Similarly, rising talented shooters Aliyah Dunn and George Fisher have been superb, ranked the top two most accurate shooters in the Top 10. Up the other end, Kelly Jury and Kristiana Manu’a will look to contain Fisher, whilst Kate Burley has a massive job on Dunn.
Saturday, May 7 @ 2:10pm
Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic
Saturday, May 7 @ 4:10pm
Sunday, May 8 @ 4:10pm
Monday, May 9 @ 7:15pm