Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Not-so-secret weapons

Irene van Dyk. Photo / Getty Images
Irene van Dyk. Photo / Getty Images

If the Magic are to secure their place in the playoffs for the fourth straight year, they will again rely on their experienced players to lead the way

Casey Williams

At some point this season - and probably more than once - you can bet Silver Ferns defender Casey Williams will have the television commentators scratching around trying to find new superlatives to describe her on-court heroics.

Her speed, athleticism, timing, defensive instincts and nose for an intercept are quite simply brilliant. Over the past few seasons the Magic's defensive strategy has been built around Williams' strengths - they smother the ball carrier to force the opposition into making loose passes for the athletic defender to come through and snaffle. Williams is the best in the business at this and she will likely again play this key role in 2011.

Although Williams has been outstanding at goal defence for the Ferns over the past two seasons, she seems a better fit for the Magic back in goal keep.

If the Magic are to give Williams licence to roam out at goal defence, they need strong and capable back-up in goal and neither Jess Tuki nor Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick appears ready for a starting role just yet - particularly when you match them against the likes of the Swifts' Catherine Cox, or Jamaican stars Romelda Aiken of the Firebirds or the Thunderbirds' Carla Borrego.

Their strongest defensive line remains Williams back at goal keep, with the experienced Jodi Tod at goal defence.

Laura Langman

Watching Magic captain Laura Langman duck and weave her way around the court is not for the faint-hearted. She is fearless with her drives through the court, evading her opposition with her speed and tenacity.

She is always on offer on attack and the first player her teammates look to off-load the ball to. In recent years, as her understanding with van Dyk has grown, her feeding into the shooting circle has improved remarkably and she often tops the list in goal assists for her team.

Langman is a workhorse on defence, and has the ability to pick off some spectacular intercepts with her strong tracking ability. She can also be relied upon to direct play down the defence end to keep the unit, making sure the defenders are ready for any balls that may be fired their way.

In short she is the glue that holds the Magic together.

Irene van Dyk

Where would the Magic be without Irene van Dyk?

It is a question the franchise will have to contemplate if not later this year, then probably next.

But for now, they will just be thankful they have the services of arguably the best shooter world netball has ever seen anchoring their goal circle.

Even at 38 and in the supposed twilight of her career, van Dyk's range of movement seems to improve with every season, her shooting stats are consistently phenomenal and her strength under the goal and rebounding ability is unbelievable.

She has been the most accurate shooter in the league over the past three seasons, consistently shooting in the 90s, and also ranks well up there in terms of volume as well.

This year could be her most challenging season with the Magic as she will likely be relied upon to shoulder even more of the leadership responsibilities in the attack end, with the retirement of former Fern Jodi Brown forcing the Waikato side to go with a new-look forward court. Neither of their two goal attack options - Julianna Naoupu and Jamilah Gupwell - have previously had regular starting gigs in the ANZ Championship.

But goodness knows van Dyk has had to carry the Magic shooting end, and the Ferns' for that matter as well, many times over the course of her career, and the veteran is more than equal to the task.

Peta Scholz

Former Australian international Peta Scholz has had a big impact in her short time with the Magic.

Last year the Magic lost their way for a few weeks after losing the experienced midcourter to a season-ending knee injury, before England's Jade Clarke stepped into the breach. But after a making a remarkably speedy recovery from a knee reconstruction, Scholz in back in Magic colours eager to tend to some unfinished business.

Scholz tight man-on marking ability adds another string to the Magic's defensive bow, with the wily defender particularly effective on her circle edge defence.

The 35-year-old's hard-nosed competitive attitude that seems to be bred into every Australian is a particular asset in high pressure games.

- NZ Herald

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