The Magic have passed their first real test of the ANZ Premiership, edging the Central Pulse in a tense clash in Rotorua tonight.
The new-look Magic side, which boast six debutants in their line-up, have been the surprise package of the new competition, posting comprehensive back-to-back wins in their opening round double-header.
Coach Margaret Forsyth has done an impressive job of getting the new combinations to gel and instilling confidence in youngsters like shooter Monica Falkner and midcourt dynamo Ariana Cable-Dixon.
But with their average winning margin over the first two games being 21 goals, the Magic had yet to be tested under pressure. Tonight was a different story.
The Magic had patches where they threatened to bust the game open, but could never get further than four or five goals ahead before the Pulse, led by a sterling defensive effort from captain Katrina Grant and Phoenix Karaka, charged back at them. Leading 44-39 at the final change of ends, the Magic fended off a strong challenge from the Pulse in a frantic fourth spell to claim a hard fought 52-50 win.
The Magic started confidently, building a handy early lead as Cable-Dixon and Grace Rasmussen ran riot through the midcourt, delivering some beautiful passes into the shooting circle.
In the defensive end, Kelly Jury's long reach caused problems immediately for the Pulse shooting end, with Cathrine Tuivaiti called for a held ball on her first look to the post. But as the quarter wore on, Tuivaiti and shooting partner Te Amo Amaru-Tibble made better use of deception and ballspeed to combat the 1.92m Jury.
As the Pulse attack end kicked into gear, the Magic began to falter, allowing the visitors to take a 17-14 lead at the first break.
After the messy finish to the opening spell, the Magic immediately set about repairing the damage after the break, tightening up their defensive effort across the court. Skipper Casey Kopua was particularly influential, pulling in three intercepts for the quarter as the Pulse struggled to find a way into their shooters.
While the Pulse attacking effort tired badly closing in on halftime, the Magic charged into the break, taking a 29-25 lead.
Needing an injection of fresh legs, Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie introduced teenage prodigy Tiana Metuarau a goal attack after the break.
Matched up against former Silver Ferns skipper Kopua, 16 year-old Metuarau showed impressive poise and composure, proving a settling influence on the Pulse attack end.
The Pulse dictated the pace for most of the third period, closing the gap to two goals with two minutes left before the final change of ends. But the Magic produced a late surge courtesy of intercepts to Kopua and midcourter Sam Sinclair to take a 44-39 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
A held ball from Cable-Dixon on the first centre pass proved an ominous start for the Magic, setting the tone for a nervous final quarter. The Magic became hesitant on attack as the pressure mounted, with every ball into the shooting circle tightly contested.