Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is a NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Magic to battle for Kiwi credibility

Casey Williams says her injury worries won't stop her taking part in the grand final. Picture / Christine Cornege.
Casey Williams says her injury worries won't stop her taking part in the grand final. Picture / Christine Cornege.

It has to be said, after four years of Australian dominance in the ANZ Championship, netball fans on this side of the Tasman are getting decidedly twitchy.

As each successive Australian winner has been crowned, New Zealand's standing in the competition has taken a blow. Many commentators believe for the league to remain credible there needs to be a Kiwi champion.

New Zealand's hopes of ending the frustrating drought once again rest squarely on the shoulders of the Magic, who will take on a Melbourne Vixens side eager for a slice of history of their own in tomorrow's grand final showdown. The Vixens are seeking to become the first team to lift the ANZ trophy twice.

Although aware of the increasing desperation from Kiwi fans, Magic coach Noeline Taurua said the team doesn't feel pressure to win for the sake of the competition's credibility.

"I don't feel any pressure in that regard as such because I think the New Zealand franchises have been able to close the gap. The difference between the top four teams this year has been marginal and on any given day any team could win," Taurua said.

Of greater importance to the Magic is their own credibility. The Waikato/Bay of Plenty side have featured in all four previous finals series and never been able to nail it.

It is a harsh reality but because the success of a team is ultimately judged by the number of trophies in their cabinet, the Magic's inability to kick on and win a title has taken the gleam off their impressive record.

Taurua's side are desperate to remedy the gaping hole in their resume tomorrow.

While they had endured harsh criticism for their past failings, Magic captain Laura Langman said the team did not feel like they had any points to prove in the final. More so the team wanted to have something tangible to show for the growth they have experienced this year.

"If anything we want to prove it to ourselves. We've had the right ingredients to make it to the top four and make it to the grand final three times, but we haven't been able to find that bit extra to get ourselves across the line," Langman said.

"But we've learned a lot from our finals experiences and I think the key will be taking those experiences and putting them to good use."

In their previous two grand final appearances in 2008 (v Swifts) and 2010 (v Thunderbirds), the title had effectively been decided by halftime, with the respective hosts holding convincing leads at the long break on both occasions.

The Magic, then, are expected to go out and attack tomorrow's match extremely hard, knowing that in the red hot intensity of a grand final, a poor start can be costly.

"For us it is just about getting out there and being prepared to make things happen and knowing we've done the work. We're ready to take it to them," Langman said.

Coming off a six-day turnaround, the Magic will need to summon all their physical and mental strength to overcome the Vixens.

There are concerns over the fitness of their star defender Casey Williams, who has managed an ankle injury all season and pulled up with cramping late in the epic preliminary final win over the Mystics.

But the super-competitive defender said she would have to be physically restrained to stop her from playing.

Even more inspirational is shooter Irene van Dyk, who will play in tomorrow's final before flying out to South Africa for her mother's funeral.

But having been faced with a must-win scenario since round five after opening the season with four straight losses, Taurua believes her side are well-equipped to handle the challenges of trying to upstage the minor premiers on their home turf.

Their narrow one-goal win over the Thunderbirds in the minor semifinal, followed by their extra time shut-out of the Mystics last week has only further strengthened the belief in the Magic squad that they are capable of stepping up another gear when the pressure comes on.

"Because of the performances that we've been able to build from week to week, we've never been as well prepared mentally [as] we are now," Taurua said.

- NZ Herald

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