Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Swifts too quick for Magic in last clash

Swifts' Kimberlee Green passes with Magic's Jamie-Lee Price chasing during the ANZ Championship semi-final. Photo / Getty Images
Swifts' Kimberlee Green passes with Magic's Jamie-Lee Price chasing during the ANZ Championship semi-final. Photo / Getty Images

Swifts 65
Magic 45

New Zealand's involvement in the ANZ Championship has come to an end.

The Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic have been bundled out of the semifinals by a ruthless NSW Swifts side, leaving the Sydney outfit and the Queensland Firebirds to contest what will be the last transtasman league grand final next weekend.

The Firebirds, who are bidding to become the first -and only - side to win back-to-back titles, will host the decider after overcoming a spirited Southern Steel side 67-64 in Sunday's other semifinal.

It will be a re-match of last year's grand final, just as tonight's semifinal clash in Hamilton was a re-match of the same fixture last year, with the Swifts once again convincing winners, taking out the match 64-45.

The Magic looked out of the contest by halftime, with the star-studded Swifts line-up leading by nine goals at the long break and had doubled that advantage by the end of the third quarter.

It was a disappointing end to the Magic's ANZ Championship story. They have been New Zealand's most successful franchise over the nine seasons of the competition, and the only side across the entire competition to feature in every play-offs series.

Many of those memorable play-off matches have featured the Swifts.

The two sides have contested the first ANZ Championship final, and have met in the semifinal stage of the competition five times. Interestingly, the homeside has now lost on each of those occasions.

Stats aside, the signs looked ominous for the Magic from the outset, with the Swifts swarming defence troubling them early on. The visitors were able to cleverly isolate the ball carrier, leading to pushed passes and easy turnover to the Swifts.

But the Magic seemed to find their way as the quarter wore on, drawing level through the middle stages.

They had the opportunity to head into the first break on level pegging, but a misconnection on attack between Jo Harten and Ellen Halpenny allowed the Swifts a late opportunity, which they duly converted to take a 16-14 at quarter time.

That two-goal deficit quickly blew out for the Magic after the change of ends, as Australian international Sharni Layton began to make her presence felt in the defensive end, coming up with a flurry of impressive steals.

Layton was aided by some strong through court pressure from her team on defence, with midcourters Laura Langman and Abbey McCulloch working overtime to shut down the Magic's options. Halpenny was particularly costly for the homeside, shooting just 4/7 in the first half, whilst racking up five of the Magic's 10 turnovers.

By halftime the Swifts were well in charge of the contest, leading 33-24.

Needing to find something special to dig themselves out of a hole, the Magic made a couple of strong defensive plays earlier in the third spell, but continued to waste it away on attack.

With the scoreline extending into double figures, Fitzgerald had no option but to make radical changes to her attack end, and they don't come more radical than shifting wing attack Grace Rasmussen into the goal attack bib.

Rasmussen started out her career in the shooting circle and was renowned as a clever and creative player, but at 1.75m she was often dwarfed by defenders and was forced to reinvent herself as a midcourter.

While Rasmussen added some much needed speed and movement into the Magic attack line, she couldn't help curb the turnover count nor the impact of Layton as the Swifts raced out to a 49-31 lead at three quartertime - double their advantage at halftime.

With their season over, the Magic fought hard over the final period to try and finish off their ANZ Championship era on a slightly more positive note. But wanting to take some momentum through to next week's grand final, the clinical Swifts allowed them few openings.

- NZ Herald

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