Netball: At last! Magic claim win for NZ

By Dana Johannsen

Magic players celebrate after winning the ANZ Championship. Mark McKeown/Musae Studios
Magic players celebrate after winning the ANZ Championship. Mark McKeown/Musae Studios

Magic 41
Vixens 38

The Magic have finally cracked it.

After a seemingly endless procession of Australian winners in the transtasman league, the Waikato/Bay of Plenty side yesterday broke New Zealand's drought, upstaging the Melbourne Vixens on their home turf to claim the crown.

It was the Magic's third grand final appearance, having made it through to the big show in 2008 and 2010.

A case of third time lucky perhaps? Luck had little to do with it.

In a performance that typified their season, the Magic produced a gutsy, determined display coming from behind to overrun the hosts in the final minutes of the match.

Trailing for virtually the entire match, the Magic had to scrap just to stay in touch with the Vixens, who led by as many as six goals in the third quarter. But a brilliant intercept from Casey Williams with 6 minutes remaining allowed the visitors to level the score, and take the lead from the following centre pass.

Once they had their noses in front, the Magic never relinquished the lead, remaining calm and collected as the Vixens' inexperienced attack line faltered.

Having watched from the sidelines twice before as the opposition captain hoisted the ANZ Championship trophy and frolicked in confetti, captain Laura Langman said she was over the moon to finally get her hands on it herself. "It's lighter than I anticipated," she said of the trophy.

"It's a massive moment and I still don't think it's quite sunk in yet. I'm just very proud and to lift the trophy and celebrate with the team is definitely up there in my books."

The grand final was a game that, on paper, the Magic had little chance of winning. No New Zealand side had won the transtasman league crown. No side has come from third to take out the championship. And the Magic had not beaten the Vixens on their home soil in five seasons. Yet for all the weight of history that was against them, you couldn't write off the Magic.

Dead last after four rounds, the Magic had defied sizeable odds to make it to the title decider. A gut-busting run of 11 straight wins - including a tense one-goal win over the Thunderbirds in the minor semifinal, and an extra time win over the Mystics in last week's preliminary final - helped the Magic develop a harder edge.

Their experience of those tough, pressure-filled matches paid dividends yesterday. It was evident from the opening whistle that after four seasons of one-sided finals, we were in for a tight contest befitting a grand final.

In what was possibly the strangest opening five minutes in an elite netball game, the ball swung up and down the court, with neither side able to convert their opportunities. After six minutes of play, just three goals had been scored. Magic coach Noeline Taurua said the early nerves were telling from both sides.

"It was weird. From both teams it was like a ping-pong match and it was quite surreal," Taurua said.

"But you can't take away the pressure that is out there, and what it brings. And it brings weird stuff."

With both sides struggling to get their act together on attack, the Vixens held an 8-7 lead at the first break.

The game opened up slightly more in the second period, as the Vixens' shooting pairing of Karyn Howarth and Tegan Caldwell worked their way in to the game. The pair shot at just 53 per cent in the opening period, but improved their rate in the second quarter to help their side capitalise on the wealth of turnover ball being won by their much vaunted defensive end.

Two goals in quick succession, or at least what seemed quick in the context of the match, gave the Vixens a handy 22-18 lead at halftime.

They looked similarly strong for much of the third quarter as well, opening out a six-goal lead as Geva Mentor and Bianca Chatfield continued to place enormous pressure on the Magic attack.

But some defensive heroics from Leana de Bruin late in the spell got the Magic back within three goals heading in to the final turn.

With just 15 minutes remaining, Taurua instructed her side to just go out there and leave everything on the court in the final spell. "I think at that point there was a real switch from us and we kind of let the result and outcome go and just focused on trying to play some good netball, and that was the difference," Taurua said.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 21 Apr 2014 04:38:51 Processing Time: 2354ms