Team shows some of old Waikato-BOP Magic

MAGIC COACH: Julie Fitzgerald.
MAGIC COACH: Julie Fitzgerald.

Just two games left in the trans-Tasman league season, who could have foreseen the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic featuring?

Perennial contenders, yes, but with a cleanout of players and new coaches, surely a seventh successive finals spot was just a dream?

got themselves into a fairytale position.

night they take on the Queensland Firebirds in Brisbane in the preliminary final, with the winner booking a trip to Melbourne to face the Vixens in next Sunday's grand final.

The pressure is pretty much off underdogs the Magic. They like they did in were also unfancied before last weekend's minor semifinal in Sydney, where a come-from-behind one-goal win on the final whistle eliminated the NSW Swifts.

Another trans-Tasman trip doesn't make for easy preparation, and they face the Firebirds who, until last Monday, were in hot form.

The Queenslanders won six on the trot - including a 59-55 win at Hamilton in the final round of the regular season to claim second spot and push the Magic to fourth - before falling to the Vixens 52-47 in the major semifinal.

Magic coach Julie Fitzgerald is expecting a backlash after that.

"They were able to put some real pressure on at various stages in the match. And I think they'll be really disappointed," she said.

"They certainly gave themselves enough chances and weren't able to convert them. So I'm expecting them to really try and come out and rectify that this week."

History doesn't go in the Firebirds' favour, though. Apart from the first year, 2008, the next five seasons have seen the loser of the major semi also go down in the prelim final. It looks like the team that wins the minor semi seems to keep that winning momentum.

Not that either coach is reading anything into that.

"Not at all," Fitzgerald said. "I think this season, more than anything, has shown records count for nothing. Even just the number of wins it took to get into the finals and claim the minor premiership, all of these things have been broken this year."

Counterpart Roselee Jencke, chasing her 50th win in the competition in her fifth season, agreed.

"I don't worry about stats and what's happened in the past," she said. "It's about what happens on the day, and we need to make sure that we bring a really good game, and an improved game, from last Monday against the Vixens.

"It's about focusing on the basics and the fundamentals, and executing our game plan on the day really, really well."

That game plan is all about getting quality ball to their shooting queen, Romelda Aiken, whose reach might prove too much for star Magic defenders Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin if the midcourt don't play their part in shutting down the hosts' attack.

"They're just such a tremendous scoring team, they've got the ability to score very quickly, and that's something that we have to counteract," Fitzgerald said.

"I think with someone like Romelda, the job's got to be done out the front of the defenders. I don't think you can leave it to the in-circle defenders."

The other key to the Firebirds is their captain, Laura Geitz, at goal keep, and her sustained tough marking will make life difficult for Jo Harten and Ellen Halpenny.

And then it's the midcourt, where the Magic can be flaky. They need to front against a brigade which Fitzgerald is in awe of, having coached a number of them at the Australian Institute of Sport.

The Magic have spent the week refining little things.

"I thought our attack has vastly improved in the last couple of weeks and it's nowhere near as big a focus as it has been for us in the past," Fitzgerald said. "But obviously there's always things we want to tweak at both ends."

Sunday Star Times