After a closely-fought ANZ Premiership regular season, three teams remain to contest the trophy. Merryn Anderson takes a look at how they got there, who missed out - and why.
In 12 days, the Northern Mystics will line up in Hamilton in hopes of taking home the 2023 ANZ Premiership title. But who will they face, and how did they get there?
The defending champions Pulse will host the Stars in the elimination final in Porirua on Sunday, with the winner going through to the grand final on June 4.
A Stars victory this weekend would make it the first all-Auckland final in the league's history. And neither team could claim to have a home-town advantage, with the game set in stone for Hamilton.
It’s been one of the closest seasons, the top four teams separated by just eight points, with the make-up of the elimination final not known until the final game of pool play (which ended up going to extra time).
The Tactix pushed the Mystics to extra time in their final game on Monday night, but still fell short of making the elimination final, losing by three - when they needed to win by at least 12. But it may have been a lack of bonus points during the season that ultimately cost the Tactix.
LockerRoom takes a look at all six teams, what went right - or wrong - this season, and gives them a report grade for their regular season performances.
The Mystics secured their spot in the grand final last Sunday, with a five-goal win over the Stars. The winners in 2021, new head coach Tia Winikerei led the team to 11 wins and just four losses (three of which were within five goals).
Always a star for their team, Grace Nweke finished the regular season with the most goals - 755, at an accuracy of 92 percent.
The Mystics’ defence was strong this season, not missing a beat when Sulu Fitzpatrick was on the bench injured. Young Carys Stythe slipped in alongside Phoenix Karaka - the trio able to rotate seamlessly.
Despite leading most of their final game, the Mystics were pushed beyond the regular 60 minutes by a Tactix side desperate to stay alive in the competition. But they still look strong to win the grand final.
A rest week could benefit the Mystics greatly, with a few players who've been battling injuries or illness this season.
If they can field a fully fit team, they’re hard to stop - the Nweke/Peta Toeava connection is yet to find its match defensively, and centre Tayla Earle won’t run out of energy any time soon.
And what better way to farewell Fitzpatrick than with a title - with over 150 domestic matches to her name, the Mystics would love nothing more than to send their captain off in style.
Pulse: A -
The first team to secure a place in the finals series, the Pulse finished second on the ladder, therefore securing the rights to host this weekend’s elimination final against the Stars.
It was a different looking line-up for the Pulse this year, as Aliyah Dunn departed to the Tactix and Malawi’s Joyce Mvula was brought in as an import player.
Many expected Mvula to fill Dunn's shoes as the dominant goal shoot. But it was 19-year-old Amelia Walmsley who stepped up, finishing her debut regular season with the third-most goals of any ANZ Premiership shooter.
Kelly Jury was phenomenal as usual at the back - her deflections, rebounds and intercepts all throwing off opposing attackers.
In order to make the grand final and have a chance of defending the title they won in 2019, 2020 and 2022, Walmsley needs to not be rattled by any defensive opponent, and her shooting partner Tiana Metuarau will have to step up and provide more volume and feeds.
Stars: B +
Despite a mid-season lull, where the Stars suffered some heavy defeats, last season’s finalists bounced back to win nine games.
The ever-important bonus points were their saving grace, as they came back from a 10-goal deficit to draw within five of the Mystics on Sunday. With just over three minutes left on the clock, the Stars scored the five goals of the match - Amorangi Malesala sinking the crucial goal right on full-time. They celebrated like they'd won the game.
Maia Wilson was the most accurate shooter of the competition, finishing on 94 percent accuracy, with the second-highest volume.
With Malesala in great form, the Stars shooting circle looks strong, but their defensive end needs to be tidier, and get more clean intercepts to send down to their shooters if they're to progress past the elimination final.
Going into the final round, the Tactix needed two wins to have a real hope of making the finals series. An unexpected nine-goal win over the Pulse on Saturday meant the Tactix had to have a comprehensive win over the Mystics - 12 goals or more, depending on what the Mystics scored.
They managed to come back from a seven-goal deficit to push the minor premiership champions, but a sizeable win never seemed likely, eventually ending their season with a 64-61 defeat.
The Tactix were the only team this season to not receive a bonus point. With all other teams having three or four, the Tactix would have been in finals contention if a few of their losses had been closer.
The Tactix had a strong roster, especially defensively, with Jane Watson and Karin Burger reunited. A season-ending injury to Greer Sinclair (who was having a great season) wasn’t detrimental to the team, as Paris Lokotui stepped in, finishing her rehab from ACL surgery.
Aliyah Dunn’s first season in red was fine - she had good accuracy but less volume than usual, as she was ably supported by Te Paea Selby-Rickit - who’s known to share the load well for a goal attack.
Magic: B -
It was a mixed bag of a season for the Magic - six wins, nine losses and four bonus points. They looked like they had a chance of making the elimination finals early on, but a few heavy losses pushed them out of finals contention.
The combination of Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Bailey Mes worked well for the Magic, averaging 89 percent accuracy. Mes had one of her best domestic seasons, signing off from professional netball over the weekend on a high.
Tears from Claire Kersten after their final match suggested she may be departing the Magic as well, her domestic retirement confirmed after the game, leaving the team who were rebuilding so well from a difficult few seasons in a bit more trouble.
But Simmon Wilbore and Georgie Edgecombe’s connection in the midcourt grew every game, helping the Magic push through, and even beat some of the top teams. It was just consistency mid-season their team were missing.
The Steel are history-makers - the first ever ANZ Premiership winners. And they also now have the unfortunate title of being the only team to go through a season without a win.
So what went wrong? The initial Steel team on paper looked strong, the loss of Shannon Saunders expecting her first baby offset by the pick-up of Magic middie Sam Winders.
But when George Fisher went down with an ACL injury in a pre-season match, so did the Steel’s hopes. Their game plan had to change, and the Southerners weren’t quick enough to adjust.
Despite goal shoot Saviour Tui doing her best while recovering from her own minor knee injury, the Steel finished the season with zero wins from 15 games, gaining four bonus points, but with a goal difference of -206.
They looked close to securing their first win in their final game against the Magic, in front of their ever loyal Invercargill crowd, but fell just one goal short - the story of their season.
And spare a thought for Winders - the former Magic captain has won just seven of her last 60 ANZ Premiership games after going winless with the Steel this season.
*The ANZ Premiership elimination final between the Pulse and the Stars is this Sunday, with coverage from 3.30pm on Sky Sport 1 and free-to-air on Prime.