ANZ Premiership: Northern Stars book grand final showdown with playoff victory over Northern Mystics

Northern Stars have booked their spot in the ANZ Premiership grand final, with a hard-fought victory over defending champions Northern Mystics in the elimination playoff.

The 63-57 win propels the Auckland side to a meeting with tabletoppers Central Pulse for the domestic netball crown on Sunday. 

The crosstown rivals entered their do-or-die meeting with contrasting form, with the Stars winning eight of their previous nine outings and the Mystics losing four in a row, after losing star shooter Grace Nweke to an ankle injury.

With Nweke on board, the titleholders had lead the competition through the opening two months and her return for the playoff promised to be a critical factor in the result.

But departing Mystics coach Helene Wilson made the tactical decision to leave her kingpin out of the starting line-up, preferring to start rookie Grace Namana and Monica Falkner under goal instead. 

Called in as a COVID-19 replacement, Namana opened the scoring and converted all her eight attempts in the first quarter, but as that period wore on, the Stars began to assert their dominance, rattling home five unanswered goals to reach the first break 16-10 ahead. 

Stars captain Maia Wilson, whose declining form probably cost her team a shot at the title last season, shot a faultless 13/13 through the opening stage.

Wilson immediately inserted Nweke into the game, but even her imposing presence could not prevent the Stars extending their advantage to double figures to lead 33-23 at halftime.

Sensing they needed to throw everything at their rivals over the second half, the Mystics produced a strong third quarter, with Nweke slotting five consecutive goals.

When Nweke and Falkner scored four straight midway through the fourth stanza, the Mystics had closed to within three goals - but that was as close they came, as neither team missed a shot in the final 9m 24s.

Wilson and Nweke both shot superbly, but the Stars were better served at goal attack by Jamie Hume, who kept the Mystics defenders guessing with her movement around the circle.

Silver Ferns midcourt Gina Crampton provided 63 feeds into her shooters, with 37 of them yielding goals.

Northern Stars 63 (Wilson 42/44, Hume 21/25) Northern Mystics 57 (Nweke 45/49, Namana 8/8, Monica Falkner 4/6)