The Magic have spectacularly blown an opportunity to secure top spot on the transtasman league table after producing their most error-ridden display of the season against the seventh-placed Southern Steel in Invercargill last night.
It was the Magic's second shot at securing outright lead on the table, with their five-goal loss to the Steel following a disappointing 54-44 loss to the Pulse the previous week.
With the Magic looking like the only New Zealand team capable of securing a play-offs spot, their sudden drop in form is an ominous sign of further Australian dominance.
While the Magic will be wondering what they can do to regain their spark, the Steel will be ruing their slow start to the season, with the southerners producing some confident and clinical performances of late. They ousted the Mystics from finals contention last week, and continued to play the role of spoilers last night.
With the exception of a 17-11 opening quarter blitz, the Magic never looked comfortable against the Steel, whose defensive efforts were just as noteworthy as the typically dominant shooting performance from star import Jhaniele Fowler-Reid.
Magic captain Casey Kopua said their lack of discipline on attack cost them.
"I think if you put 10 people in that circle we still won't stop Jhaniele, so we needed to score off our own ball and we didn't do that," she said.
The Magic made sure they were defensively on task from the outset, pressuring every pass from the start to get an immediate break, with the Steel's first long-bomb into Fowler-Reid off target. The home side looked shaky on their next two possessions as well, but the Magic were unable to capitalise as they took a while to settle into their rhythm on attack, with some needlessly ambitious passes letting the Steel off the hook.
They were not so lucky later in the spell though, as once the Magic began to display a bit of patience on attack they were able to make sure they made the most of the turnover ball they were generating on defence, to take a healthy 17-11 lead at the first break.
The visitors extended their lead to eight goals early in the second period before the fightback came from the Steel, as the young defensive pairing of Phoenix Karaka and Storm Purvis stamped their mark on the game. The Magic attack were perhaps guilty of underestimating the pairing, with the ball placement into and around the circle not as precise as it should have been.
By halftime the Steel had closed the gap to just three goals, and it took them just 90 seconds in the third period before they had the lead with a run of five unanswered goals.
Clearly rattled by the Steel's defensive intensity, the Magic looked anything but a top four side during this stretch, with their play punctuated by mis-directed passes, fumbled balls and poor shooting. They regained their composure later in the quarter to level the score again, before a missed shot from Ellen Halpenny saw the Steel seize a two-goal lead heading into the final period.