Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Magic have a week to find their spark

Joanne Harten's 32 points weren't enough to help the Magic defeat the Firebirds tonight. Photo / Getty
Joanne Harten's 32 points weren't enough to help the Magic defeat the Firebirds tonight. Photo / Getty

Firebirds 71
Magic 47

The Magic have just a week to rebuild their confidence ahead of the ANZ Championship elimination finals after being taken apart by the Queensland Firebirds in Hamilton tonight.

The Waikato-Bay of Plenty side suffered a heavy 24-goal defeat at the hands of the Firebirds, in a performance that will raise serious concerns for coach Julie Fitzgerald as her side approach their ninth straight finals campaign.

Fitzgerald, who last night marked her 100th ANZ Championship match in a disappointing fashion, will be particularly unhappy with her side's discipline and error rate. The Magic will need to address these areas in their final round clash against the Adelaide Thunderbirds next weekend.

While both the Magic and the Firebirds had already secured their place in their respective conference finals ahead of last night's encounter, both still had plenty to gain from the match.

The Magic were eager to regain some momentum following a topsy turvy season and get their win-loss record back into the positives.

For the Firebirds, the top spot in the Australian conference is still on offer, with the defending champions locked in a tight battle with last year's beaten finalists, the NSW Swifts for the number one billing heading into the finals. The massive win over the Magic has helped the Queensland side's bid, giving their goal percentage a healthy boost.

But the Firebirds have a tricky final round assignment against the Fever in Brisbane next weekend, while the Swifts host the unbeaten Steel

The Firebirds' last visit across the Tasman was not a happy one as the defending champions suffered a 15-goal loss to the Southern Steel in Invercargill. Since that defeat two weeks ago, the Firebirds had a bye week to regroup and allow their crack defensive unit of Laura Geitz and Clare McMeniman to recover from injuries.

The Diamonds pairing made their impact felt early on, as their sheer presence in the circle brought a level of hesitancy to the Magic attack line.

It did not help the Magic were without influential midcourter Grace Rasmussen, who was sidelined from what would have been her 100th ANZ Championship appearance through injury. Without their key midcourt general the Magic struggled to find their rhythm and timing on attack, which led to a couple of early defensive gains being wasted by the homeside.

There were fewer opportunities for the Magic defence in the second quarter, as Romelda Aiken and Gretel Tippet began to find their connection - much to the frustration of Leana de Bruin and Kristiana Manu'a who began racking up the penalties as they tried in vain to disrupt the impressive pairing.

The Firebirds were getting plenty of help from the homeside as well, with two breaking calls on Sam Sinclair on consecutive Magic centre passes helped bolster the visitors' tally.

Seven goals better than the Magic in each of the first two quarters, the Firebirds took a commanding 35-21 lead at the long break.

From there, the Magic's night only got worse as the relentless Firebirds chased a big win to further their chances of securing top spot on the ladder. While the Magic produced a more competitive third quarter, they were still staring at an 18-goal deficit heading into the final spell.

The final blow came in the last quarter, when Sinclair was forced from the court with an ankle injury, resulting in another re-jig to the Magic's already depleted midcourt.

- NZ Herald

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