The Magic will have to do it the hard way.
A loss to the Queensland Firebirds in Hamilton tonight means the Magic have finished the trans-Tasman league regular season in fourth place and will have no playoff matches at home and face sudden death matches from here on in.
In front of a sold-out crowd of 4086 at Claudelands Arena, the Magic put up a spirited showing but went down 59-55, making it four losses from their last five.
It means they are packing their bags for Sydney to face the NSW Swifts in the third vs fourth minor semifinal, having lost to them over there by 12 just over a week ago.
The Firebirds will travel to Melbourne to face the Vixens in the first vs second major semifinal, with the winner getting a week off and hosting the grand final and the loser getting a second life.
The visitors deserved their win. The Magic didn't claim the lead until the final quarter, but ultimately they missed 14 shots to the Firebirds' six and coughed a bit too much ball.
While the Firebirds ran with their usual starting seven, Magic coach Julie Fitzgerald made the surprising move to start Samantha Sinclair at wing defence.
That bib has been battled for between Jamie-Lee Price and Bessie Manu all season and Sinclair's only previous game time in her debut year was in round one against the Tactix when she came on for the last quarter in her more accustomed position of centre.
But despite her inexperience, Sinclair - who turns 19 on Thursday - was given the nod because Fitzgerald felt she had trained well all week and offered the team more speed.
The former New Zealand secondary schools captain is a heady player and was up for the task, giving her opposite, Verity Simmons, plenty to think about and was named player of the match.
The opening quarter was tit for tat, but inside the final few minutes the Firebirds opened up a three-goal advantage, before going to quartertime 14-12 up.
Fine defensive pressure, led by three Leana de Bruin intercepts, had the hosts plenty of ball to seize the initiative, but their shooting wasn't of the highest quality in the face of some tough defence from Laura Geitz and Clare McMeniman.
Some sloppiness in the closing stages of the half by the home side meant the Firebirds regained the lead and went to halftime 28-26 ahead.
The Magic then shot themselves in the foot with their opening to the third quarter. A couple of offensive lapses and they were suddenly trailing by four and then six. From there it was catch-up netball.
The Firebirds kept finding 1.96m Jamaican goal shoot Romelda Aiken (40/45), with Amy Wild (19/20) also stepping up big time, while Magic shooters Jo Harten (29/35) and Ellen Halpenny (26/34) found the going tougher.
For the final quarter the Firebirds introduced Jacinta Messer for McMeniman at goal defence, but it was the other GD that had the early say, with a Kopua deflection enabling the scores to be levelled.
The visitors had their turn with their noses in front and with the Magic behind 50-49 Grace Rasmussen was pinged for breaking, which sent the Firebirds ahead by three with five and a half minutes to play, and had the Magic call a timeout.
Rasmussen redeemed herself with great fight for a loose ball, but when the Firebirds won a throw in thanks to Geitz, they scored twice to finish things off.
The days and times for the semifinals are still to be confirmed.
- Waikato Times
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