Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: No-hopers to favourites - a Magic revival

Magic's Irene van Dyk and Thunderbird's Sharni Layton.
Photo / Mark McKeown/Musae Studios
Magic's Irene van Dyk and Thunderbird's Sharni Layton. Photo / Mark McKeown/Musae Studios

From dead last to title favourites - as far as turnarounds go, the Magic's has been about as dramatic as they come.

Written off as a spent force after opening the season with four straight losses, a fifth consecutive play-off appearance looked beyond the Magic both mathematically and physically.

But after a 17-goal thrashing of the previously top-placed Adelaide Thunderbirds at the weekend, the Waikato/Bay of Plenty side are on the verge of pulling off what looked to be impossible eight weeks ago.

With the best goal percentage in the competition (which is used as a measure to separate teams on equal points), it would take a series of far-fetched events for the Magic to miss out now.

In fact they are being talked up as favourites to win the crown.

Notwithstanding their forgettable opening month, the Magic are playing some of the best netball we've seen from them in five seasons in the competition.

They've strung together eight wins, the longest winning stretch of any team in the league this season, with all but two being by double figures.

Saturday's win was undoubtedly their best performance thus far.

There were many impressive facets of the Magic's demolition of the Thunderbirds - Casey Williams' warrior-like efforts on attack and defence, Julianna Naoupu's swagger, Laura Langman's dynamic display in the midcourt and Irene van Dyk's fancy footwork and near-perfect accuracy.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect was their performance as a team. The Magic had a frugal turnover count of just six for the match, with their patient, controlled style of game holding up to the tight one-on-one marking of the Australian side.

Coach Noelene Taurua said she was heartened by the discipline her side showed on attack in the face of relentless pressure from the Thunderbirds.

"It really shows how well our structures are working," she said. "It's about us believing what we're doing and having confidence in that."

The Magic face the Queensland Firebirds in their final-round clash in Hamilton next Monday. A win over the defending champions could see the Magic finish as high as second, setting them up well for a tilt at the title.

But having been forced to play for their lives for the past eight weeks, the Magic aren't about to start looking at play-offs permutations.

Van Dyk, outstanding at the weekend against tireless defender Sharni Layton, said her side would be focused only on the Firebirds this week.

"We're on the right track and we've just got to keep going and not get too carried away, because what we've done over the last eight weeks has worked for us. As far as we're concerned this is another do-or-die game," said van Dyk.

It is difficult for the punters to see past the Waikato side for the crown. Of all the top four sides, the Magic are playing the most consistent netball - not usually a trait associated with the team in past seasons.

But right from the start the Magic did things differently this season. And it could end in a manner to which they're unaccustomed as well - lifting the ANZ Championship trophy.

- NZ Herald

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