Netball: Northern Mystics edge Mainland Tactix in early-season gutcheck for ANZ Premiership contenders

Northern Mystics have fired a warning shot to their ANZ Premiership rivals, edging Mainland Tactix 54-45 in an early-season meeting of competition favourites.

In a rematch of the 2021 national finalists, the southerners led for much of an evenly contested first half, without ever extending their advantage beyond two goals.

Mystics broke the game open with four unaswered goals to start the third quarter, establishing a lead they would never relinquish. Their rivals closed within three midway through the fourth stanza, but shooter Grace Nweke iced the win with five straight goals that blew out the final margin. 

Nweke emerged as the leading scorer, converting 46/52 (88 percent), while taking on the lion's share of shooting responsibility for her team. Tactix counterpart Aliyah Dunn - last season's top goalscorer for the champion Central Pulse - converted 24/29 (82 percent) and balanced the attack with Tall Ferns attack Te Paea Selby-Rickit.

Incredibly, the Tactix midcourt managed 100 feeds into the attack circle, but their shooters put up only 56 attempts on goal and converted on less than half their feeds, a measure of Mystics interior defenders Phoenix Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick.

After making consecutive finals, the Tactix trailed the 2022 competition, but have retooled for another run at the crown, adding Dunn and England midcourt Laura Malcolm, while welcoming back defenders Jane Watson and Karin Burger. 

'We knew it would be a grind for 60 minutes," said captain Fitzpatrick. "They have international experience across the board and are a very strong side.

"I'm really proud that we were able to grind through that and pull away in the last four minutes.

"They're very strong at contesting the ball, they make the space look really open and they're very clean on the contest."

The Mystics only scored off 35 of their 50 centrepasses, relying heavily on turnovers to make up the balance of their attack. They face winless Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic next Sunday, while the Tactix face struggling neighbours Southern Steel the following day.

Northern Mystics 54 (Nweke 46/52, Falkner 4/7, Vui 4/4) Mainland Tactix 45 (Dunn 24/29, Selby-Rickit 20/26, Koloto 1/1)