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Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is a NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Magic's time running out

Irene Van Dyk is soon to turn 40. Photo / Getty Images
Irene Van Dyk is soon to turn 40. Photo / Getty Images

They are the consistent performers of the transtasman league - the only side in the competition to have made the finals every year.

The problem is, once they get there the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic fall short.

Now, five seasons into the ANZ Championship, there is a suggestion the Magic's chances to cash in on their star-studded line-up are running out.

With their key strike-weapon Irene van Dyk turning 40 in June and now a year-by-year proposition in the league, and the franchise sitting on a fiscal knife-edge (they have already slashed their salary budget and rely heavily on the support of Netball New Zealand) there are question marks over how long coach Noeline Taurua can keep her talented group together.

This season may well be the Magic's last dance, but if the team are conscious they are on borrowed time, they are not letting on.

There certainly appears a greater intensity about the Magic group this season, but Taurua said this had come about through honest self-reflection on their past campaigns rather than a sense of urgency in the face of the crumbling empire.

"One of the things we identified with the Magic is that we have a good team culture, but at the end of it we haven't had a winning culture of a performance culture - I think that has shown in regards to our results," she said.

To establish this winning culture in the team, Taurua has set exacting standards for her players and has been uncompromising when it comes to meeting those standards. In addition the Magic coach has emphasised the need for self-responsibility.

"If you can't do the business then you shouldn't be there. So that's where the self-responsibility comes in," said Taurua. "Setting those standards has been really good for creating a competitive nature for the team every time we take the court in training."

Magic captain Laura Langman, who has not missed a quarter of netball for the Magic over the first four seasons of the transtasman league, believes the 2012 team has a different feel about it.

She said the teams had taken huge steps in finding the little bit extra that would help them get over the line.

"I think the change in attitude has been huge this year - we train to win and that will help us with our consistency," said Langman. "I think we've addressed a lot of issues with the intensity of our training sessions ..."

But the training court is one thing, doing the job out on court week-in, week-out in the highly competitive league is another.

When you consider their team list they should be more than capable of producing the goods in the transtasman competition.

Their roster reads like a New Zealand netball honour roll, with the likes of van Dyk, Langman, Casey Williams and this year, Leana de Bruin headlining the squad.

But scattered in among those superstars of the game are some of the underachievers of sport - players like Jess Tuki and Julianna Naoupu, who were stand-out rookies, but have yet to deliver on their potential.

These same concerns over the strength of the Magic support acts have emerged in previous campaigns.

The inability of the second-tier players to execute the gameplan under pressure has been singled out as one of the key downfalls of the Magic's recent title bids. (With a starting line-up stacked with internationals in the first two years, their initial failings certainly can't be put down to a lack of talent.)

So the challenge for Taurua is to develop more depth in her squad and ensure the likes of Tuki and Naoupu can stand up to the rigours of the league. "The biggest thing for us is to get more mongrel and more physical, and being able to receive that physicality without getting emotionally involved," she said.

"They need to get out there and do the business. For some of them it has been a big learning curve, but they know what the standards are as everyone else does."

As part of her efforts to improve the standards in the team, Taurua plans to travel with just 10 players to their away games this season, creating competition among her second-tier players simply to make the game-day squad. "It all goes back to that theme of creating a winning culture.

"We have set high standards and if people can't meet those standards, then they cannot contribute to the team going in for that week."

Taurua said because the league was so competitive, in previous campaigns she hadn't been able to get her 11th and 12th players out on court. This has meant the conditioning of the bench players has suffered for it, as they are unable to train properly when they are on the road.

- NZ Herald

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