Swifts not taking the Waikato-BOP Magic lightly
Familiarity has bred anything but contempt - or complacency - for the NSW Swifts as they seek to end New Zealand's involvement in the Trans-Tasman netball competition in Sunday's opening match of the finals series.
The Swifts players and management are taking a cautious approach to their minor semifinal with the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic at Allphones Arena, discounting the significance of a 12-goal winning margin when the teams last met in Sydney on May 25.
An intimate knowledge of Julie Fitzgerald's strategies - the Australian was the Swifts original coach - was also considered irrelevant as the Swifts plan to secure their first title since winning the inaugural championship in 2008.
"Both our teams are completely different to a couple of years back and for everything I know about Julie, Julie's going to know exactly the same about me," said Swifts coach Rob Wright, Fitzgerald's assistant in 2010-11.
He said although that designation was a valuable learning experience, Fitzgerald had clearly adapted her philosophy to suit a New Zealand team.
"I think she's been really clever. They've still got the old Magic style of play but she's brought some of her own elements in and they've combined really well to produce a hybrid type of game," said Wright, who leads the franchise to the post-season for the first time since 2011.
Captain Kim Green - who played for the Swifts throughout Fitzgerald's four-year reign - agreed that her former mentor had evolved since Fitzgerald resurrected her ANZ Championship after being replaced at the Sydney franchise at the end of 2011.
"The one thing we really recognised when we played them was that they do have a hybrid sort of defence. They can play the zone, they can play the one on one as well," the midcourt linchpin told Stuff.co.nz.
"That's something Julie has instilled into the team and it's a great thing to have especially when you've got an Aussie and a New Zealand umpire (in the finals).
"They may mix that up a little bit in terms of what they do at certain times. I think they'd probably laugh at our zone."
The Australian centre said the only benefit from playing the Magic in the penultimate round of the regular season was having time to study a roster that saw nine new players join the franchise in 2014.
"It was better than playing them at the beginning of the year when we didn't really know the players that came in."
Although Laura Langman has switched from the Magic to the Northern Mystics for 2014, Green acknowledged Grace Rasmussen - who moved in the opposite direction - had been a revelation in a revamped midcourt at wing attack.
Rasmussen leads the competition in goal assists (226) and is the dominant supply line ahead of former Swifts player Courtney Tairi (121).
"She definitely sets up the attacking play. Her connection with (Jo) Harten and (Ellen) Halpenny is incredible. If we can separate those players as much as we can we'll be doing a good job," said Green.
Wright agreed that containing Rasmussen - who provided a relatively low 13 assists when the Swifts won 55-43 last month - would be a key to the Swifts advancing to the preliminary final between the loser of Monday's clash between the minor premiers Melbourne Vixens and the Firebirds.
"She's had a brilliant season. Her ability to feed to circle and her work connecting with the shooters has been outstanding," he said.
The Swifts ramped up their preparations yesterday and will give wing attack Sarah Wall as long as possible to recover from a calf injury that ruled her out of Sunday's loss to the Mystics.