Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Revamped Magic retain their sparkle

Laura Langman.
Laura Langman.

If there was a theme from the opening round of the transtasman netball league, it is the more things change, the more they stay the same.

After some major off-season recruitment moves much interest surrounded the opening round of the ANZ Championship to see if the high-profile personnel changes would lead to a change in fortune for the teams.

Having lost nine players in the wake of the departure of long-serving coach Noeline Taurua, including stars Laura Langman and Irene van Dyk, few gave the Magic a chance of maintaining their status as New Zealand's premier team.

Such was the level of disruption to the team, the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side went into Saturday's clash against perennial strugglers the Mainland Tactix as the underdogs.

But new coach Julie Fitzgerald has done a remarkable job of pulling together her young squad and developing them into a slick and disciplined unit.

The 70-46 win over the Tactix was virtually identical to the scoreline posted when the two sides met in round one last season, with a very different looking Magic line-up managing one more goal this year.

While their standard of opposition was poor, the confidence and crispness to their attacking play and ruthless defensive performance suggested the Magic's hopes of maintaining their record as the only team to have made the play-offs every year may not be so fanciful after all.

The players have clearly responded well to the challenge Fitzgerald delivered on the eve of the competition.

"It's up to us to prove that we can still be a threat," said Fitzgerald, heading into their season-opener.

"We are a very new team so we are unknown. It's about having the courage to get out there and do it."

Just as the Magic's opening performance had the punters hastily reassessing their dire predictions, the Mystics' play-off chances were immediately downgraded from sure thing to an outside chance after the Auckland side were on the other side of a 24-goal scoreline in Melbourne at the weekend.

Desperate to put last year's 10th place finish behind them with a solid outing against the Vixens, there was very much shades of 2013 about the Mystics' confused performance.

The addition of experienced midcourter Langman did little to stabilise the Mystics attack, which remains their chief concern. In Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Latu the Mystics have one of the most potent shooting combinations in the competition, but the team's ability to deliver safe, unstressed ball into the hands of their scorers is a key failing.

In that regard the Mystics' decision to axe experienced midcourter and foundation player Grace Rasmussen seemed a curious move, particularly after the Magic midcourter was one of the most productive wing attacks of the opening round.

The two neighbouring franchises are set to face off in Auckland in round two - a match-up that at first glance seemed unappealing has now taken on extra significance.

- NZ Herald

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