Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Magic go to top despite stirring test by Steel

Magic captain Casey Kopua helped her side take control after a rev-up at halftime. Photo / Getty Images
Magic captain Casey Kopua helped her side take control after a rev-up at halftime. Photo / Getty Images

The Magic have assumed the unlikely position atop the ANZ Championship ladder after surviving their first real test of the season against the Southern Steel in Hamilton.

New Zealand's most successful franchise over the first six years of the transtasman competition, the Magic were tipped to take a steep slide this year after losing 75 per cent of their playing roster from last season - including super-shooter Irene van Dyk and ever-reliable midcourter Laura Langman. But new coach Julie Fitzgerald has done a remarkable job of moulding the new-look group into a cohesive and feisty unit.

After two big wins in the opening rounds, the Magic were put under pressure for the first time this season, forced to come from behind to topple the free-scoring Steel side 61-57 at Claudelands Arena.

The next big test for the Magic is will their gameplan hold up to the scrutiny of the Australian sides, with the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side set to face the Melbourne Vixens and Norma Plummer's West Coast Fever side in the coming rounds.

Over the past couple of seasons the Steel have established themselves as the Magic's bogey side, having recorded a couple of unlikely wins against their star-studded rivals. This year the two sides looked more evenly matched on paper, although form over the opening rounds of the competition suggested the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side were once again the favourites.

But after opening the season with two sluggish performances, the Steel sprung to life at just the wrong time for the Magic.

With Jamaican import and key shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid still overcoming a flare-up of a heart condition in the pre-season, it was always thought the Steel would take some time to warm into the season as they rediscover how to get the best out of their 1.98m shooting weapon, and the southerners made big strides in this area tonight.

Given their gameplan is highly geared around Fowler-Reid, the Steel possess the ability to score at will when they get on a roll. Playing the Steel can be a battle in overcoming a side's own frustration as much as it is the players in blue. There were times tonight where the Magic seemed to drop their heads, having battled hard to work the ball into their shooters only to watch the Steel fire the ball into Fowler-Reid with comparative ease on the next possession.

After holding a narrow 17-16 lead at the first break, the Magic lost their way late in the second quarter as bodies tired and the marking got looser, allowing the Steel to get on a handy roll and take a five-goal lead at the long break.

Magic captain Casey Kopua said it took being reminded of their task by Fitzgerald at halftime to spur her side in to action.

"We knew the first half was pretty crappy from us and we got a bit of a rark up at halftime,'' she said.

"Julie told us we were all talk and no action and to win that game we all had to do our job.''

The Magic returned in the third quarter a more patient side, doing a better job of waiting for the spaces to open up in their attack end under the intense pressure of nuggety midcourters Wendy Frew and Phillipa Finch to take out the quarter 18-12 and seize the initiative heading into the final spell.

Magic 61
Steel 57

- NZ Herald

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