Written off in the preseason, the new-look Southern Steel have caused a major boilover in their opening transtasman league clash, upsetting the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic in Invercargill tonight.
Trailing 40-34 heading into the final period, the Steel produced a massive final-quarter effort to record a 49-47 win.
Having lost nine players from last season, including Silver Ferns Leana de Bruin (Magic), Paula Griffin (Pulse) and Liana Leota (England), the Steel were expected to struggle in 2012.
But the Steel will have many hastily reassessing those predictions on the strength of last night's performance.
The home side looked sharp from the outset, with the experienced shooting pairing of Donna Wilkins and Jodi Brown coming to the fore early on.
The pair combined for some beautiful patches of play, with their unorthodox passing and movement around the circle confounding the Magic's star defensive duo of de Bruin and Casey Williams.
With their attack end firing early, the Steel shot out to an 11-8 lead after 10 minutes.
After an untidy period through the middle of the opening quarter, the Magic finally found some rhythm approaching the break, as the attack end became more clinical with their delivery in to the shooting circle.
With the finishing abilities of Irene van Dyk to rely on, once the ball was in the circle it was as good as through the net, and the Magic just managed to get their noses in front by quartertime, leading 14-13 at the first break.
Despite the late rally, Magic coach Noeline Taurua felt a change-up was needed on attack and benched young shooter Jess Waitapu, who started at goal attack for her ANZ Championship debut. Julianna Naoupu was introduced at goal attack to inject a bit more creativity and drive to the shooting circle.
But it took some time for the new combination to find its feet, as the Steel defence did a good job of pressuring the Magic attack in to errors. With wealth of turnover ball coming their way, the home side quickly regained the lead and stretched their advantage out to 22-16 midway through the second spell.
The surge prompted the Magic to call an injury time-out to address their error rate, and Taurua opted for further changes, this time to the midcourt. Captain Laura Langman moved up the court to wing attack, with debutant Khao Watts taking up the centre bib and young Silver Fern Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick replaced Watts at wing defence.
The presence of Langman further up the court helped settle the Magic attack line, with the star midcourter providing good, safe feeds into the circle.
By halftime, the Magic had clawed every goal back, with the scores level at 25-all.
The Magic regained the lead early in the third quarter, but it took them most of the quarter to shake the persistent Steel. Every time the Magic went on a mini-run, the home side answered with one of their own.
But as three-quarter time approached the Magic put the foot down, opening out a 40-34 lead at the final turn.
The Steel coaching team of Natalie Avellino and Janine Southby rung in the changes for the final quarter, with youngsters Storm Purvis and Hayley Saunders introduced, causing a re-jig to both the midcourt and defence end.
Just when it looked as though the Magic were in control of the match, the Steel, with the help of the injection of fresh legs, quickly closed the gap, levelling the score at 43-all with six minutes to go.
Over the frantic final minutes, it was the Steel who kept their cool, pouncing on Magic turnovers to close out an unlikely win.By Dana Johannsen Email Dana