Netball: Magic into playoffs as Firebirds flame out

By Dana Johannsen

Magic Goal Attack Julianna Naoupu and Firebirds Centre Elissa Macleod fight for the ball. Photo / Christine Cornege
Magic Goal Attack Julianna Naoupu and Firebirds Centre Elissa Macleod fight for the ball. Photo / Christine Cornege

Magic 53
Firebirds 43

For the fifth straight season, the Magic are through to the transtasman league playoffs.

Only this season they've gone about things quite differently than they have in the past.

Rather than cough and splutter their way into the final four, the Waikato/Bay of Plenty side stormed through with a series of confident and assured performances.

Last night's 10-goal win over the defending champion Queensland Firebirds, the Magic's ninth on the trot, demonstrated just how far the team have come this season.

Put under huge amounts of pressure by the Firebirds defence through the middle stages of the match, the Magic held firm.

The win boosted the Magic to third place on the ladder, earning them the right to host the Thunderbirds - the team they demolished by 17-goals last week - in next Monday's sudden-death final.

Although the Magic's place in the finals was virtually assured following the Mystics' heart-stopping one-goal win over the Swifts the previous night, a win was considered crucial for the team as they endeavoured to continue the strong momentum they've built over the past 10 weeks.

The feisty Firebirds offered the Magic the kind of brutal preparation they needed heading in to the finals.

Last night's win saw the Magic maintain their record as the only side in the competition to feature in the finals every year.

Their consistency is impressive, but their post-season record is not.

Of their 10 playoff matches they've played, the Magic have won just three.

But the Magic are entering the finals this year playing the most consistent netball that we've seen from them in five seasons.

Magic coach Noeline Taurua is hopeful their 0-4 start, which almost proved terminal for their campaign, could be the very thing that helps her side finally lift the ANZ Championship trophy this season.

"I think ironically, [the poor start] has helped us become a winning side. It forced us to really take a hard look at ourselves and I think we are playing some of the best netball Magic have played," said Taurua.

As far as continuing trends go, the result also maintained the league's unusual record whereby defending champions have failed to make the playoffs the year after. Hot favour-ites to take out the title at the beginning of the season, the Firebirds were tipped to become the first side to win back-to-back titles.

But the curse of the premiers struck again, as the Queensland side could not recapture the form that saw them blitz through the 2011 season unbeaten. While they were beginning to find some spark later in the season, they needed to beat the Magic by over 20 goals last night to force their way in to the top four.

While the 10-goal scoreline suggested a comfortable victory to the Magic, the Firebirds offered stiff resistance.

Trailing 27-24 at the main break, the Firebirds got their noses in front for the first time shortly after the resumption, with the Magic making an untidy second-half start.

But the Magic steadied the ship with a couple of timely pick-ups in the defensive end to regain the lead heading in to the final turn when it mattered most.

NOT SO MAGIC

The Magic's poor playoff record

Regular season record
P 65 W 49 L 16
Winning record: 75.4 per cent

Post-season record
P 10 W 3 L 7
Winning record: 30 per cent

THE PLAYOFFS

Major semifinal
* Sunday, 4.20pm

* Melbourne Vixens v Northern Mystics
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

Minor semifinal

* Monday, 7.40pm
* Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic v Adelaide Thunderbirds
Claudelands Arena, Hamilton

The winner of the major semifinal will go straight through to the grand final, while the loser will play the winner of the minor semifinal at home for the remaining spot in the grand final.

- NZ Herald

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