Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Magic stun Steel in NZ Conference final

Magic 59 Steel 57
Leana de Bruin of the Magic lifts the NZ conference trophy. Photo / Michael Bradley Photography
Leana de Bruin of the Magic lifts the NZ conference trophy. Photo / Michael Bradley Photography

The Magic have once again proven their reputation as the pluckiest team in the ANZ Championship, pulling off a shock two-goal win over the Southern Steel in the deep south to retain the New Zealand conference title.

As they have made a habit of doing in recent seasons, the Magic stumbled through the early rounds of the competition but have found momentum at the right time, dealing the Southern Steel their first loss of the year.

Having set the pace in the competition all year to out-point even the top Australian teams, the Steel had their sights set on hosting the transtasman league grand final. But Noeline Taurua's young side - many of whom were playing in the biggest game of their careers - stumbled at the first hurdle, handing the Magic home advantage in next week's semifinals.

The Magic will host the loser of tomorrow night's Australian conference final between the Queensland Firebirds and NSW Swifts, while the Steel now have to travel across the Tasman to take on the top-ranked Aussie side.

Magic shooter Jo Harten, a key figure in orchestrating the Steel's demise with a brilliant 46/52 shooting performance, was delighted her side were finally able to crack the well-drilled southern outfit after failing in their two previous attempts this year.

"I can't believe we've done this, the Steel have played unbelievable this year and to come down here and get this win is awesome," the English import said.

"It means we can go to training on Monday with a smile on our face and work even harder than we have done all year."

Fresh off a 17-goal demolition of the Northern Mystics in last week's elimination final, the Magic side raced out of the blocks today, surging out to an 11-goal lead mid-way through the second quarter.

The Steel's success this season has been built on a methodical, patient approach on attack, frustrating opposition defences with their willingness to work the ball around and wait for the feed to be on into 1.98m supershooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid.

But put in the unfamiliar position of playing catch-up netball, the Steel abandoned the game plan that had served them well all season and tried to force the pace of the match, which only played into the Magic's hands further. Rushed centre-passes, panicked decision-making and over-ambitious feeds saw the Steel's turnover count mount at an alarming rate.

The homeside weren't winning much back down the other end of the court either, as the Magic, playing with pace and precision, looked unstoppable on attack.

Having dug themselves a deep hole early on, Noeline Taurua had no option but to look to her bench to spark something on defence, but few would have expected her eyes to settle on Abby Erwood - a 19-year-old rookie. After sitting on the bench all season, the young defender was thrown in the deep end in her ANZ Championship debut. She proved a handy swimmer - helping the Steel disrupt the quick flow of ball around the circle to get the homeside back to within eight goals at the break.

Some halftime inspiration from Taurua helped put the Steel back on the right course, as they set about eating into the Magic's healthy margin, reducing the deficit to five heading into the final turn.

Cheered on by a sold out crowd at Stadium Southland, the Steel levelled the score at 53-all with six minutes remaining in the contest.

But the Magic, who have featured in every final series since the competition's inception, always looked in control in the pressure-filled closing minutes, with a vital turnover to star defender Leana de Bruin effectively sealing the result.

- NZ Herald

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