The result maintained the Firebirds' record as the only unbeaten team in the competition and gave Australia a perfect start to the Rivalry Round. All games in Round 7 over the weekend are trans-Tasman clashes with the scores being totted up after the final game on Monday. The country with the most points will win the Rivalry Round Trophy, won for the last two years by Australia.
Firebirds gradually built on their game today and had it humming in a strong second half effort where the delivery and supply of ball to shooter Romelda Aiken was the difference, in the end, between the two teams.
Both sets of defences made strong openings, turnovers common as the ball failed to make its way into either circle. The visitors were the first to eliminate their scrappy start, finding the key target of 1.96m Aiken with more frequency.
Mystics were guilty of squandering opportunities, letting themselves down on attack by pushing passes and poor execution in trying to find their main target – Cathrine Latu.
Trailing by four goals and with Firebirds ever-threatening, a late surge by the home team where they applied challenging defence and pin-point accuracy under the hoop helped drag the hosts back into the contest. Not as accurate at their own shooting end, the Firebirds, however, went to the first break just ahead at 12-10.
Momentum ebbed and flowed during an absorbing second stanza which mirrored the tactics of the opening exchanges. Again, the defensive screens from both teams were highlighted. Respective goalkeepers, Rachel Rasmussen (Mystics) and Laura Geitz (Firebirds) benefited from the pressure created, both popping out for important turnover ball.
Mystics grabbed the lead temporarily but Firebirds were quick to reclaim it as neither side could completely shake the other. Aiken’s superior reach was a decisive factor as team-mates Lauren Nourse and Natalie Medhurst found their target with some precision passing.
More confident on attack, Mystics found their rhythm as space opened up. Wing attack Grace Rasmussen supplied quality ball to Latu while goal attack Maria Tutaia showed her uncanny knack of being able to slot goals from all points of the circle with a positive display.
In something of a stalemate, the goal difference remained the same as Firebirds kept their noses in front to lead 28-26 at halftime.
Changes to the Firebirds for the second half injected a new sense of urgency as the visitors clicked into a higher gear. Elissa MacLeod came off the bench to centre with Chelsea Pitman going to the bench and Nourse to wing attack. Clare McMeniman replaced Keirra Trompf at wing defence.
The changes worked seamlessly, the visitors rattling in a succession of quick-fire goals as they streaked out to a nine-goal lead and the hope of closing out the game.
Missing the last three games through injury, Joline Henry came on at wing defence for the home team and while initially the Mystics went off the boil, a late charge kept their faint hopes alive. The Firebirds maintained their advantage as they headed into the last break with a 44-39 lead.
In a last ditch effort, changes of position and personnel by the Mystics in the run home could not shake the consistency and composure of the rock-solid Firebirds, who ended with a flourish.
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|Goals / Attempts||52 / 57 (91.2 %)||61 / 69 (88.4 %)|
photos Janos Schmidt