Even without vastly experienced goal attack Sharelle McMahon, the Melbourne Vixens proved too classy for the Northern Mystics in their trans-Tasman netball league match in Auckland on Saturday.
But a second-half revival saw the Mystics fight all the way to the final whistle, as the Vixens meekly surrendered a 12-goal halftime lead before rallying to win 61-57.
Vixens coach Julie Hoornweg stood down McMahon for the game against the eighth-ranked Mystics, instead giving Australian under-21 rep Ashlee Howard a run at goal attack.
Howard repaid her coach's faith with a mature display, getting through plenty of good work upcourt and combining confidently with Caitlin Thwaites in the circle. The 21-year-old missed only two goals in the entire game, sinking 25 from 27 attempts for an excellent 93 percent success rate.
Her performance afterwards drew praise from Vixens co-captain Bianca Chatfield.
"I think Ashlee Howard did a fantastic job. She really stood up, especially in that first half, there were no nerves to be seen," she said.
Mystics coach Te Aroha Keenan had her hands full trying to settle on a combination to keep Howard and Thwaites in line, starting with Vilimaina Davu at goal keep before bringing on Rachel Rasmussen after 15 minutes.
Once she settled on the versatile Pulu Finau at halftime, the Mystics really hit their straps. It took a little time, as the Vixens stretched away early in the third quarter to lead by 14 after holding a 36-24 halftime lead.
But with the combination at the back between Finau and Bond solid, the midcourt freed up: Temepara George continued her recent outstanding form and, in tandem with wing attack Grace Rasmussen, sent in some quality ball to shooters Cathrine Latu and Pamela Cookey.
The English international has improved with every match, and had an all-but perfect game.
Not only did she sink 21 from 22 attempts, she got through a power of work upcourt on attack, and still managed to ramp up the defensive pressure when the Vixens tried to work the ball down court.
Latu was only fractionally behind in the accuracy stakes, sinking 36 from 39 attempts for 92 percent under relentless pressure from classy Vixens' defenders Bianca Chatfield and Julie Corletto
The Mystics fought back to trail 41-48 at the three-quarter and closed to within two with barely two minutes left.
While happy to finally secure the win, Chatfield was less than happy with the way her team fell off in the second half.
"We had the lead at halftime, I'm not quite sure what happened... we'll have to go back to the drawing board, I think," Chatfield said afterwards.
"We need intensity in every single quarter if we're going to match it with the other top teams when we come into the finals."
Mystics captain George was again left rueing lost opportunities, after her team effected a similar comeback to last week's against the Southern Steel, which saw them fall short by two.
"It felt like there was a lot of space, but we were calm and had patience this time round, and it worked for us," George said.