Humbled Northern Mystics look to bounce back

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 15:05 09/03/2014

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There's no sense of panic but a swift reality check should have delivered the Northern Mystics an immediate wake-up call.

The scene was familiar. Touted before the season as genuine title contenders, the Mystics were humbled by 24 goals in their opening-round defeat in Melbourne.

Regularly boasting a star-studded line-up but rarely living up to the inflated hype, early signs are that history will repeat.

This season was supposed to be different.

The acquisition of ever-consistent Silver Ferns midcourt linchpin Laura Langman should have provided the stability missing since the retirement of the influential Temepara Bailey. Coupled with the return of no-nonsense coach Debbie Fuller, these changes were meant to cultivate a luscious, overdue blooming of talent.

Not yet, it seems.

Tomorrow's heavyweight clash with the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in Auckland will provide a firm gauge of how much the Mystics absorbed from their first-up flop.

"If we can't come away from that and look at some realities we have to deal with then we're going to struggle, but it's only week one," Fuller said. "I don't think it's a true reflection of what this team can do.

"There's nothing to gain by panicking. If I panic then my players will panic and then we'll inflate something that we have no control of. We've got to have real clarity, front up and pull it off. If we can do that we'll have some success against the Magic."

Ferns shooters Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Latu have been put on notice. A repeat of the team's woeful 59 per cent shooting stats and recording their equal lowest overall total (34 goals) is not an option. Feeding into the circle also needs to improve. And they will still be without Ferns defender Anna Harrison who is making a cautious recovery from a foot injury.

"We were exposed in our attack end under pressure," Fuller admitted. "That's something we have to deal with and work through this weekend." Off-season player transfers add significant spice to this already heated rivalry, where the Magic hold an 11-3 advantage.

Langman and Nadia Loveday, who alongside Elisapeta Toeava is an option at wing attack with Erikana Pedersen suffering headaches after a head-knock last week, line up against the Magic for the first time.

Former Mystics midcourter Grace Rasmussen also has a point to prove after being allowed to jump ship to the Magic.

"Both teams know each other very well," Fuller said. "There's that familiarity."

Most pundits expected the Magic to battle integrating nine new players and management team, while coping with the loss of veteran shooter Irene van Dyk and Langman after an at-times ugly offseason reshuffle.

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Yet the seamless nature of their round one 24-goal trouncing of the Canterbury Tactix, who look set for another cellar-dwelling year, turned heads. The fresh midcourt combination of Courtney Tairi and Rasmussen was slick and the now inherent understanding between star defenders Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin set the tone, once again.

"Geographically they may be a team that's been pulled in but in terms of time on court they know each other well," Fuller said.

"They're a team that attacks hard through court. They were allowed to do that quite easily against the Tactix. That's something we try and disrupt." Fuller has been here before with the Mystics. This time, though, she'll need all her nous to instigate a dramatic turnaround within a week.

"We've worked through tough stuff like this before."

- Sunday News

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