There are clues to the Mystics’ unique heritage embedded everywhere from the logo and colours, through to the symbolic designs that sweep across the playing dress. When a player pulls on the iconic blue dress for the first time, they are adding to the Mystics story, continuing the rich history of elite netball in the region and standing on the shoulders of the wāhine toa who have gone before them.

Established in 2008, the Mystics has become one of New Zealand netball’s powerhouses, winning two ANZ Premiership titles in 2021 and 2023 and producing dozens of international stars. As of 2024, a total of 87 players have taken the court for the Mystics and among them, over 50 who have achieved international honours, representing not only the Silver Ferns, but seven other nations including Australia, England, Fiji, Jamaica, Samoa, Tonga and South Africa.

A new beginning for netball in the North

The Mystics story began 17 years ago when it was announced that five New Zealand franchises would compete in a new trans-Tasman competition known as the ANZ Championship. It heralded a new era in semi-professional netball and it was decided that the Mystics would be the team to represent the country’s northern region from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, right up to Cape Reinga in Te Tai Tokerau Northland and everything in between. The new franchise was formed by merging two former National Bank Cup teams – the Northern Force and the Auckland Diamonds. The Mystics’ origins can be seen to this day in the team’s colours. Royal blue for Auckland and the Pacific Ocean that surrounds us, red for Counties Manukau and North Harbour, and light blue for Northland.

More than a dress

The rich tapestry of culture within the team and the regions it represents is also proudly reflected in the designs emblazoned on Mystics dresses over the years.

The Tapa design is inspired by tapa cloths that are synonymous with the Pacific Islands, the ancient Pasifika artform of wood and shell carving and tatau, or traditional tattoo seen throughout the Islands. Made from various barks and textiles, tapa cloth is intricately decorated by rubbing, stamping, stenciling, dyeing and even smoking to achieve a black or rust-brown colour. The distinct geometrical patterns often depict flora and fauna unique to the country in which the tapa is made. The signature Mystics Tapa incorporates a flower and bird motif to symbolise femininity and speaks to the many players of Pacific Island heritage who will forever be a part of the Mystics whānau and the proud Pacific Island community living within the Mystics region.

The Poutama design is inspired by the traditional Māori pattern commonly seen in weaving and artwork. On the one hand it symbolises whakapapa, or genealogy and those who have gone before, and on the other it represents a stairway reflecting the pursuit of knowledge, spiritual ascendence, growth and learning.

The Māori designs acknowledge the central role of whakaaro Māori, or Māori thinking, within the Mystics team environment and the tangata whenua, or people of the land, from where the Mystics belong.

The story so far

It was 2008 when the Mystics made their debut at home versus the Tactix at Trusts Arena. The original squad of 13 was coached by renowned netball mastermind Yvonne Willering and featured many legends of the game including none other than Mystics player #1, Temepara George (née Bailey) aka ‘Bubby’, a dynamic midcourter who lit up the court and pioneered that signature flair the Mystics still play with to this day. Other founding players included defender Leana De Bruin, the Rasmussen sisters of Grace and Rachel, shooter Cathrine Tuivaiti (née Latu), defender Vilimaina Davu and shooter Teresa Tairi.

George would go on to captain the team for the following four seasons. 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 fourth 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.

In 2012 George was named joint MVP of the league in her swansong season, alongside fellow Silver Fern midcourter Lauran Langman of the Magic. Remarkably, George retired having featured on court for every single minute of the 72 matches she played for the Mystics. In the same year 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.

In 2013 former Silver Ferns coach Ruth Aitken joined the Mystics in the head coach role after 10 years leading the national team and a year spent as coach of Singapore. It was the same year that Peta Toeava made her ANZ Premiership debut for the Mystics at just 19-years-old and Australian Diamond defender Julie Corletto (née Prendergast) made the jump across the ditch to pull on the blue dress.

The following year, superstar shooter Maria Folau (née Tutaia) took over the captaincy and played her 100th ANZ Championship game. She would go on to captain for the next three years, reaching an even more impressive 150 game milestone in 2017 – a year in which she balanced travel between her new home of Sydney and Auckland where she continued to play for the Mystics until 2018.

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. That season Cathrine Tuivaiti (née Latu) played her 100th ANZ Championship match in round 7 versus the Pulse.

It was 2016 when current captain Michaela Sokolich-Beatson made her debut in the blue dress at 19-years-old during what would become 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 became 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.

Silver Ferns defender Anna Harrison and Maria Folau would share the captaincy during that inaugural ANZ Premiership season that also saw the re-introduction of Silver Ferns shooter Bailey Mes to the Mystics after a two season stint with the Tactix. Harrison played her 100th national league match that year. That same season Mererangi Paul was named in the side. She would go on to play two seasons with the Mystics before switching codes to rugby where she has since become a star of the Black Ferns. It was also the year that Helene Wilson took over the head coach role before going on to lead the side to its first championship title four years later. Wilson’s appointment was a deliberate move to employ a home-grown coach with a deep understanding of the netball community, with the view to also producing a home grown championship team within three to five years.

In the seasons to follow, the ANZ Premiership would be dominated by the Southern Steel and Central Pulse, two teams the Mystics have continued to enjoy great rivalries with. In 2017 the Southern Steel boasted Jamaican sharp shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid making them almost unstoppable. The Mystics came heartbreakingly close to beating them in Dunedin, but lost by one goal just before the final whistle. The Mystics were the only other team to taste victory in that era and break the Pulse’s dominant run. An especially memorable moment was in 2018 when the Mystics took on the Pulse in Wellington at a time when Sulu Fitzpatrick was playing in the black and yellow dress. In the dying moments a long feed was fired into Bailey Mes under the post. Mes plucked It from the air, despite strong physical defensive pressure, but struggled to hold her balance. As she fell out of court she shot the ball through the hoop mid-air to claim the win on the buzzer.

It was 2018 when defender Phoenix Karaka entered the Mystics fold after time with the Southern Steel and the Central Pulse. It was a year in which the Mystics also employed the expertise of former Silver Ferns Linda Vagana and Sonya Hardcastle as specialist coaches for the next two years.

The following season saw the departure of two key players in Anna Harrison and Maria Folau and the arrival of two promising young stars. Grace Nweke would make her debut for the Mystics while still attending school at Avondale College, alongside fellow debutant Tayla Earle, who had made the move north from her home of Rotorua in her final years of high school to pursue a career in netball. While the Mystics languished at the bottom of the table that season, it would prove to be the beginning of a new era for the team.

In 2019 the Mystics introduced a strategy to nurture young, home-grown talent with the view to seeing them play in the blue dress. That very strategy continues to this day and is why the Mystics always look to utilise training partners in the match day side, as opposed to drawing in outside replacement players. It’s a strategy that has supported the likes of Grace Nweke, Tayla Earle, Filda Vui, Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, Peta Toeava, Catherine Hall, Dani Binks, Carys Stythe, Holly Mather, Jessie Taylor and more who have gone on to become part of the Mystics’ championship-winning teams.

In 2020 Sulu Fitzpatrick rejoined the side after a short sojourn to the Pulse and Phoenix Karaka was named captain alongside Michaela Sokolich-Beatson as vice-captain. It was shaping up to be a year of great promise following a difficult rebuilding phase. Karaka would discover later that season that she was expecting her first child, while two key players would suffer season-ending injuries while playing for the Silver Ferns with Sokolich-Beatson rupturing her Achilles tendon and Bailey Mes injuring her knee before the season even began. It was a year marred by constant disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic too. Preseason was spent in lockdown with players training individually and at home. Netball New Zealand initially suspended the season from April to May, before returning to crowdless venues throughout June and July. In August that year, round 10 and the two finals series matches were cancelled and the Grand Final was played behind closed doors.

It was 2021 when the Mystics finally tasted sweet success, winning the ANZ Premiership title after dominating the season winning 11 games and beating the Tactix 61 to 59 in front of the largest crowd ever in the competition’s history. Coach Helene Wilson and captain Sulu Fitzpatrick led the team to that epic Grand Final win at Spark Arena in Auckland and it wouldn’t be long until many of that championship side would go on to repeat the victory and add to the burgeoning trophy cabinet. In that same season Australian netball guru Rob Wright joined the lineup as assistant coach, becoming New Zealand’s first male coach at the elite level. Wright joined the Mystics after three seasons with the now defunct Collingwood Magpies in the Super Netball League, and having guided the NSW Swifts to consecutive Grand Finals in 2015 and 2016 in the former ANZ Championship.

The Premiership title was the product of many seasons spent laying the groundwork for what would become a unique team culture. Before the 2021 season began, the team switched their focus inwards to understand the cultural significance and meaning behind the Tapa and Poutama on the dress and to set their goals as a group.

Over next two years that team culture would prove invaluable, with the Mystics retaining almost all of their title-winning playing roster, including Fitzpatrick who remained as captain. Despite a solid season in 2022, the Mystics failed to fire in the later rounds without star shooter Grace Nweke who was sidelined with an ankle injury. The team finished in third place, but with a renewed determination to resume their place at the top.

In 2023, the Mystics put the rest of the league on notice, winning 12 games including a stunning 18-point Grand Final victory over cross-town rivals the Stars at GLOBOX Arena in Hamilton. It was the perfect send-off for retiring captain Sulu Fitzpatrick who ended her 13-year career with 154 ANZ Premiership appearances and 27 test caps for the Silver Ferns. It was also a dream maiden season for new head coach Tia Winikerei who was promoted to the top job after two seasons as apprentice coach under Helene Wilson.

04.06.2023 Mystics celebrate during the ANZ Premiership Grand Final netball match between the Mystics and Stars at the Globe Arena in Hamilton Mandatory Photo Credit ©Michael Bradley

Heading into the 2024 season, the Mystics are not only defending their ANZ Premiership title, but also the full set of New Zealand derby trophies including the Hobbiton Cup, the Georgie Salter Memorial Trophy and the Barfoot and Thompson Northern Challenge trophy.