A innovative defensive strategy and a near flawless shooting performance by Cathrine Latu enabled the Northern Mystics to savour a rare trans-Tasman netball championship victory in Australia today and strengthen their title claims by beating the Melbourne Vixens 49-45.
While Latu’s perfect shooting record finally ended six minutes from time at Hisense Arena, an enthralling eighth round encounter heralded a new tactic which benefits the already renowned aerial threat of Silver Fern Anna Harrison.
The veteran defender confounded the crowd before halftime when she elevated her wiry frame to tip a shot by Tegan Caldwell clear as it was about to drop into the rim.
And then in the final quarter later, when the game was notionally in the balance, she was twice hoisted by Jessica Moulds to intercept goal bound attempts by replacement shooter Karyn Howarth.
The rugby lineout-style lifting stunned spectators and television commentators and when it was successful a second time Vixens fans turned on the New Zealanders, not that the reaction detracted from just their third victory in 14 matches across the Tasman since the competition began in 2008.
Runners-up in 2011, the Mystics atoned for poor performances against the Adelaide Thunderbirds and reigning champion Queensland Firebirds earlier in the season to suggest a New Zealand franchise might still be capable of securing the trophy for the first time.
While Harrison’s unorthodox defensive work was a feature of the Mystics best performance of the campaign, Latu and Maria Tutaia combined to ensure the visitors had a big enough buffer to protect down the stretch.
Latu had not missed an attempt in her four previous outings and was closing in on a remarkable fifth successive perfect game in the final term when an attempt finally lipped out.
But the combative goal shoot’s rare indiscretion was immaterial as the Mystics already held a six-goal lead.
Latu nailed 23 from 24 and although Tutaia’s accuracy tapered off in the latter stages she proved an excellent foil, typically from long range, with an analysis of 26/34.
The Mystics now have a six-win, two-loss record and join leaders Adelaide and the Vixens on 12 competition points.
Melbourne, meanwhile, have now suffered back-to-back losses after their perfect start to the season was ended by the NSW Swifts last weekend.
The encounter was a tense and physical affair before the Mystics asserted control in the third quarter by leading 38-34 heading into the final 15 minutes.
Notorious for changing their line-up at regular intervals in previous rounds, Mystics coach Debbie Fuller maintained the same starting combination employed against the Southern Steel last weekend and that consistency reaped rewards as Latu and Tutaia employed efficient service for the majority of the game.
Harrison, who made a game-high five deflections, was ably assisted by Kayla Cullen in the defensive circle until Moulds entered the fray in the final minutes.
In contrast, Fuller’s counterpart Julie Hoornweg started shuffled her resources from the third quarter and made a raft of changes at the final change over, to no avail.
The Mystics next host the bottom-placed Canterbury Tactix on Sunday while the Vixens aim to arrest their form slump with another home game against the Swifts.
Northern Mystics 49 (Maria Tutaia 26/34, Cathrine Latu 23/24).
Melbourne Vixens 45 (Kate Beveridge 12/15, Tegan Caldwell 20/23, Karyn Howarth 13/15).
- © Fairfax NZ News