Netball: Sparking a Magic spell

By Dana Johannsen

Despite boasting the most intimidating line-up on paper, the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic largely failed to fire last season.

Of course, finishing second in the highly competitive transtasman league was by no means a disgrace, but the Magic looked unconvincing at many stages of the season; their up-and-down form making the star-studded lineup look decidedly average at times.

Still, they managed to battle their way into the Grand Final, eventually finishing runners-up to the impressive NSW Swifts in Sydney. So, can the Magic go one better in 2009?

They have consolidated this year by calling in reinforcements, adding another top defender in Silver Fern Leana de Bruin as well as highly rated midcourter Frances Solia.

The former Wellington stalwart joined the side as a straight replacement for last year's captain Amigene Metcalfe, who retired at the end of last season.

But De Bruin's decision to defect to the Magic raised more than a few eyebrows. Critics argued that the Waikato side's insistence on snaffling Silver Ferns was to the detriment of the other New Zealand teams.

The franchise countered that it was De Bruin who approached the Magic as she and her husband were keen on moving back to Cambridge.

De Bruin also admitted she had become disillusioned at the Mystics following the axeing of her former coach and mentor Yvonne Willering.

Rightly or wrongly, the Magic have certainly boosted their already hefty power rating with the addition of De Bruin, but it won't make any difference if the Waikato side have not addressed their deficiencies from last season. Magic co-captain Joline Henry believes simply having a season of ANZ Championship netball under their belt puts them in a better place to achieve success this year.

"Last year was a steep learning curve for both myself individually and the team as well," said Henry. "I think just having that knowledge of what it's like dealing with travel and logistics, umpiring and all those things that we can't control will help us heading into this season."

Magic coach Noeline Taurua's decision to deliberately send her side into last season underdone also appeared to backfire, with the team lacking the intensity throughout the competition, and never really reaching their peak.

Despite only getting together as a team once a week in the build-up to this season, Henry is confident her side will hit the ground running come their season opener against the Mystics on Monday.

As for the pressure the Magic are under to get it right this season, Henry said it won't affect their performance in any way.

"A lot of people have alluded to all the pressure we'll be under because everyone is singling us out as one of the teams to beat this year, but we have expectations of ourselves, and they probably exceed everyone else's.

"If we don't achieve those expectations then we are going to be disappointed."

- NZ Herald

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