A LOOK BACK ON THE MAKINGS OF THE MYSTICS FOR HERITAGE ROUND
An image that will forever be etched into the hearts and minds of Mystics fans is captain Sulu Fitzpatrick slamming the ball into the court with a mixture of relief and pure elation as the Mystics claimed their first ever ANZ Premiership title in 2021.
It was a crowning moment in Mystics’ history, lifting the trophy in front of a record crowd at Spark Arena and bringing the curtain down on a magical season that was then 14 years in the making since the team was first formed back in 2007.
Fast forward to today and the Mystics are embarking on their sweet 16 and chasing that same dream – to lift the ANZ Premiership trophy for the second time and to spark another memorable run in the team’s rich history.
As we celebrate round five this weekend, our very special Heritage Round, we reflect back on our history, one that has produced not only a coveted ANZ Premiership title but a whopping 48 internationals including 34 New Zealand representatives and players from the Australian Diamonds, England Roses, Fijian Pearls, Jamaica’s Sunshine Girls, Samoa’s Tifa Moana and the South African Proteas. All in all, a total of 84 players have pulled on the blue dress over the years with centre Katie Te Ao the latest debutant to take the court for the first time this season. Each of those players has embodied the mana of the Mystics and the responsibility to honour not only the trailblazers of the club, but those who will carry the torch in the future.
It’s a legacy original coach Yvonne Willering and Mystics number one, and first ever captain, Temepara George (née Bailey) could never have imagined as they embarked on their inaugural season with the original squad of 13. Back then it was the ANZ Championship – a trans-tasman competition that heralded a new era in semi-professional netball and saw five teams from either side of the ditch compete each week. The Mystics was formed by merging two former National Bank Cup teams – the Northern Force and Auckland Diamonds – and was then the only northern team prior to the Stars entering the fold.
For the next four seasons the Mystics were led by skipper Temepara aka ‘Bubby’, a star of the Silver Ferns and a dynamic midcourter who lit up the court and pioneered that signature flair the Mystics still play with to this day. In her second to last season at the helm in 2011 the Mystics reached their first ANZ Championship grand final, falling just short to the Queensland Firebirds in Brisbane.
Despite failing to bring the ANZ Championship title home, that season would prove to be a pivotal one for many of the squad who would go on to international honours – not only in netball, but on the rugby field as well.
Both Rasmussen sisters Rachel and Grace were enjoying their third and fouth seasons with the club, alongside Cathrine Tuivaiti (née Latu), Maria Folau (née Tutaia), Joline Henry, Anna Harrison (née Scarlett), and youngsters Bailey Mes and Kayla Johnson (née Cullen) – both of whom would go on to become stalwarts of the Silver Ferns. Kayla Ahki (née McAlister) and Portia Woodman were also part of that squad before making the switch to rugby union where they both went on to play for the Black Ferns Sevens, winning a silver medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and for Portia – a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and a Rugby World Cup title in the fifteens version of the game in 2022.
A year later and the Mystics once again made headlines in international sport, but not for reasons you might think. Despite finishing the regular season second on the table, the team then suffered losses in their semi-final and preliminary final matches against the Melbourne Vixens and Magic leaving them in third overall. But not before making waves with the infamous ‘Harrison Hoist’.
It was a two-person defensive move akin to a rugby line-out lift which saw Anna Harrison hoisted by her partners Kayla Johnson and Jess McLennan (née Moulds). The ground-breaking tactic proved fruitful with Harrison blocking several shooting attempts by Vixens goal shooter Karyn Howarth. It was something never before seen in netball and created quite a stir, with the umpires left scratching their heads and the fans wanting more of this innovative new brand of netball. In true trans-tasman rival fashion, Netball Australia were quick to claim the move as their own reporting Christine Stanton as first performing the move in the 1970s, while Singapore also attempted to emulate the tactic, re-naming it the ‘Lion Dance Lift’, during the 2011 World Netball Championships. Nevertheless, it will go down in netball folklore as another extraordinary moment in Mystics history.
It wasn’t until 2015 that the Mystics looked to be back to their fighting best, progressing through the regular season unbeaten and topping the New Zealand conference. They stumbled at the final hurdle going down to the Magic in the conference final and again to the Firebirds in the semi-finals. What followed was the ninth and final season of the ANZ Championship before the competition was disbanded and both countries returned to domestic competitions – Suncorp Super Netball and the ANZ Premiership.
In 2017 the Mystics went on to become founding members of the ANZ Premiership alongside the four other New Zealand teams from the ANZ Championship and a brand-new franchise in the Northern Stars – another northern based club that would go on to become one of the team’s fiercest rivals.
In the seasons to follow, the competition would be dominated by the Southern Steel and Central Pulse, winning two and three titles respectively, with the Mystics the only other team to taste victory and break the Pulse’s dominant run.
Since their stunning win two seasons ago, the Mystics has continued to be a mainstay of the ANZ Premiership competition, always threatening for top spot and boasting a tightknit culture thanks to the retention of key players, strong leadership within the playing group and management, and the powerful incorporation of whakaaro Māori.
The Mystics now boasts four Silver Ferns, the most of any ANZ Premiership team, and with a Netball World Cup to look forward to later this year it’s set to be another dynamic ANZ Premiership.