Casey Kopua was forced to draw on the grit and determination to lead her Magic side to a one-goal win over the Adelaide Thunderbirds in her 100th transtasman netball league match in Rotorua last night.
Known for wearing her heart on her sleeve, the ace defender fired up her troops with a typically inspirational performance, coming up with the big plays in a tense final quarter to ensure she marked the milestone with a win. In a fitting piece of sporting symmetry, Kopua played her first ANZ Championship game against the Thunderbirds on the same court in 2008 - a game the Magic also won.
"It just goes to show - you play with heart and passion you get the rewards," Kopua said.
"We just took it ball-by-ball, moment-by-moment and made sure we concentrated on doing our job and weren't overawed by the occasion."
Kopua is the third player to have reached the 100-game mark, behind her former Magic teammates Laura Langman and Irene van Dyk. But the Silver Ferns captain is the first player to play 100 games for the same team, and the first to celebrate the milestone with a win.
The reigning premiers arrived in Rotorua hopelessly out of form, having dropped their past four matches, including a 38-goal walloping at the hands of the table-topping Vixens in round eight. Clearly stung by their most recent loss, the Thunderbirds last night turned in a performance fans are much more accustomed to seeing from the three-time grand finalists, forcing the Magic to dig deep.
After trailing by five goals at the first break, the visitors noticeably ramped up the intensity in the second period, putting pressure on every pass to draw within three at halftime.
By the final turn the visitors lead by one goal, as the likes of Renae Hallinan, Rebecca Bulley and Kate Shimmin worked tirelessly to disrupt the rhythm of the Magic attack, making them scrap for every goal.
Along with Kopua and Leana de Bruin on defence, English import Jo Harten was key for the Magic down the final stretch, stepping up to settle their attack with some pressure-relieving shots. Harten finished the match with 36 goals from 41 attempts, while down the end of the court the shooting duties were much more evenly shared between Carla Borrego and Erin Bell.
After a tight start to the match, a run of five unanswered goals mid-way through the spell gave the Magic the jump of the visitors, as the Thunderbirds attack struggled to adjust to the range of lanky defenders Kopua and de Bruin. They began to find their rhythm approaching the end of the period, but were unable to claw back any of those goals before the break, as the Magic took a 16-11 lead at quarter time.
It didn't take the Thunderbirds long to make in-roads in the second period though, as the home side made a slow start, scoring just one goal in the first five minutes of the spell as a series of poor passes into the circle and two missed shots - one from each of the shooters - allowed the Thunderbirds to draw within one. While the Magic were able to recover later in the quarter, their scoring was slowed considerably as the Thunder-birds placed huge pressure on every pass.
Ellen Halpenny looked especially uncomfortable in the shooting circle, finishing the first half with just a 50 per cent return due to the strong defence of the shot from Shimmin and Bulley.
The momentum stayed with the Thunderbirds in the third period as they continued to outhustle the Magic, winning the spell 15-11 to set up a thrilling final quarter.