The MG Mystics have suffered their heaviest loss of the season, going down 54 – 38 to the top of the table Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse in round nine of the ANZ Premiership at Te Rauparaha Arena, Porirua.

With playmaker Peta Toeava out with injury, former Mystics and Silver Ferns player Kayla Johnson was called in as a replacement for the Mystics, while Pulse shooter Tiana Metuarau promised to make her long-awaited return from injury in front of a home crowd.

Despite having the centre-pass, an early error from the Mystics put them on the back foot from the outset, but within a few minutes they looked to have found their rhythm, showing glimpses of their signature speed through court.

Steadfast defensive pressure from Phoenix Karaka and Carys Stythe produced good turnover ball, with Stythe also turning up three rebounds. However, the Mystics were unable to turn their opportunities into points at the other end as the shooting third struggled to kick into gear.

The Pulse’s renowned defensive duo of Kelly Jackson and Parris Mason shut down the Mystics’ attacking options and forced a number of uncharacteristic errors from the third-ranked side. The mobile shooting unit of Hannah Glen and Filda Vui tried desperately to open up space, but it was clear the Mystics were missing a solid holding option in the circle.

The Mystics finished the first stanza down by four, 14 – 10.

The Mystics’ woes continued into the second quarter, with the Pulse sprinting away to an unfathomable lead, keeping the Mystics scoreless for 10 torturous minutes.

Pulse goal-keeper Kelly Jackson applied an almost impassable three-foot guard on Hannah Glen, rewarding her with three intercepts which the Pulse made quick work of to build on their already hefty lead.

Under immense pressure to get on the scoreboard, the Mystics looked to be rattled making a number of crucial errors and losing confidence on attack.

Injury replacement Kayla Johnson made her highly anticipated return for the Mystics coming on at centre for her first appearance in the blue dress since 2016 and her first ANZ Premiership match in two years. Johnson came away with an intercept shortly before half-time, but it was little consolation for what was a discouraging quarter for the Mystics, sinking to an 11-goal shortfall, 27 – 16, at the quarter break.

The third quarter saw a raft of changes for the Mystics as they searched for answers in an attempt to turn their fortunes around.

Captain Michaela Sokolich-Beatson moved into centre, while Phoenix Karaka took her place at wing-defence and Catherine Hall came on at goalkeeper. Sokolich-Beatson’s leadership in the midcourt added some much-needed stability for the Mystics, with the skipper dictating play in the attacking third and letting the ball go into her shooters.

Pulse shooter Tiana Metuarau made her long-awaited return from injury taking the court at goal attack in her first appearance this season. Metuarau received loud applause from her home crowd as she went on to slot in well with stand-out goal-shooter Martina Salmon who led from the back putting up an impressive volume of 48 shots.

The Pulse defence continued to read the Mystics and pick off ball, with Parris Mason coming out hunting for opportunities near the transverse line.

With one quarter left to play the Pulse led the Mystics 41 – 25.

The final 15-minutes saw the Mystics find their footing, managing to keep pace with the Pulse and get some precious points on the board. Filda Vui sunk three long-distance shots in a row to buoy the Mystics’ spirits and earn back some much-needed confidence on attack.

Carys Stythe continued to work away on defence, coming up with two intercepts to give her side every chance at a comeback.

Down by 20-goals at one point, the Mystics were able to slowly eat away at the deficit and finish the match on a positive note, drawing with the Pulse 13-all in the last quarter.

The run was too little too late in the end as the Mystics suffered their third straight loss, going down by 16 points 54-38.