The Good Oil Tactix breathed a huge sigh of relief after clinging on for a thrilling 41-40 win over the Northern Mystics at the Auckland Netball Centre on Sunday.
In a frantic finish, the Mystics scored the last five goals, threatening to force a draw before the game-ending whistle denied Saviour Tui the all-important shot which went in after time.
Securing an all-important third win of the season, the Tactix led from start to finish and looked to be in the box seat when surging out to a six-goal lead with four minutes remaining.
The Mystics, however, were far from done, replying in scintillating fashion to leave the game on a knife-edge but ultimately having to settle for a bonus point.
With the intense nature of the competition and the need to have alternative points of difference, the Mystics made the slightly surprising decision to leave 1.93m shooting sensation Grace Nweke out of the starting line-up. Instead, teenage shooters Tui and Asher Grapes were handed the job.
There were no surprises in a settled starting seven for the Tactix.
In what was a dour struggle for attackers, the opening quarter produced a flurry of turnovers each way as resolute defence ruled proceedings.
With two of the league’s best defensive units in the league, Temalisi Fakahokotau and Jane Watson (Tactix) and Sulu Fitzpatrick and Phoenix Karaka (Mystics), defensive play was a prominent feature in the opening stanza.
As the defensive turnovers mounted, the ball went back and forth on a regular basis with minimal goals being scored. The extra ball secured by centre Kimiora Poi, Watson and Fakahokotau was enough for the Tactix to eke out an 8-6 lead in a low-scoring first quarter. Tui nailed all six of the Mystics’ tally.
Nweke made her entrance on the resumption, for Tui, and her connection with creative wing attack Peta Toeava was almost immediate.
With lofty Tactix shooter Ellie Bird well-contained by the Mystics defenders, Te Paea Selby-Rickit stepped up in the second quarter with a big workload outside the circle while also potting some long-range bombs.
The Mystics, however, slowly chipped away at the deficit, showing more fluidity on attack and with the presence of Nweke, a constant danger. At the other end, Fitzpatrick was a constant menace in the Tactix circle.
The Mystics introduced Courtney Elliott for Emily Burgess at wing defence while shortly after, the Tactix made a similar change with the taller Sophia Fenwick taking over from Charlotte Elley.
There were no surprises when the Mystics levelled up late in the piece but it was the Tactix who held on to take a tenuous 20-19 lead into the main break.
Tui took over from Grapes at the start of the third stanza helping the Mystics score the first three goals and leaving their opponents scoreless for three minutes, the signs looking ominous for the southerners.
But with turnovers continuing to play a prominent part, the Tactix bounced back strongly, neither side being able to gain the initiative.
Taking the direct route and employing more long ball to Bird paid dividends helping mix up the Tactix options on attack as they edged back into the lead.
Poi was all over the court, combining expertly on defence with Watson and Fakahokotau as the Tactix exerted plenty of pressure on the young Mystics shooters. With Elley back on, the Tactix kept the Mystics at arms-length when heading into the last turn with a narrow 32-30 lead.