Waikato-BOP Magic look to play one more week

Last updated 05:00 16/06/2014

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After doggedly fighting to give themselves another week of survival, is this now where it ends for the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic?

Or can they do what at the start of the season could only be described as the unthinkable, and book themselves a spot in the trans-Tasman league grand final?

The answer comes tonight when they meet the Queensland Firebirds in the preliminary final in Brisbane.

Lying in wait are the Melbourne Vixens, who have their feet up and will host the winner in the decider next Sunday.

There's a touch of history on the Magic's side. They have made grand finals in every even year (2008, 2010, 2012), while more relevant is the fact that in all years of the competition bar the first one in 2008, the team progressing from the minor semifinal has gone on to make the decider.

It seems winning form counts for plenty at this time, and despite leaving it late and taking it by a solitary goal against the NSW Swifts in Sydney last weekend, the Magic will be buoyed from having hung in and pressured their opponents when it mattered most.

"A win's a win at the end of the day. It gives you a lot of confidence, the spirits will be high in the Magic camp," Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke acknowledged.

Her team come into the contest on the back of a five-goal defeat away to the Vixens in the major semifinal, but know they were well below their best.

"We can take a lot of positives out of the Vixens game, in that we played not our best nettie at all," captain Laura Geitz said.

"We can put out a much better performance."

Magic coach Julie Fitzgerald has pinpointed the teams' recent meeting as a key thing the Firebirds will draw on.

"They'll have gained some confidence in the fact that we only played them two weeks ago and lost," she said, referring to the 59-55 result in Hamilton in the last round of the regular season.

On that night the Magic were pretty good but didn't treasure possession, and it's basics like that that could make the difference in finals.

Geitz felt at this time of the year it's the team that composes itself best which will go on to be victorious.

Her side will be out to go one better than last year, where they knocked the Magic out in the minor semi, beat the Vixens in the prelim final but lost to the Adelaide Thunderbirds in the grand final.

While she said they didn't dwell on things that are in the past and this was a totally new campaign, she noted it was a learning experience they could be better for.

"We obviously discussed losing that grand final last year and said to each other we never want to be in this position again and to remember this feeling.

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"We'll reflect on that and hopefully gain some motivation, not wanting to be in that position two years running."

While the home side will have the favourites tag, the Magic have underdog status and should warm to it, with no-one having given them much hope of even making the top four this year.

The key for the visitors will be trying to stifle Romelda Aiken's impact by limiting the towering goal shoot's supply of ball.

The 1.96m Jamaican's 83.7 per cent accuracy isn't top-notch, but her extended reach has her topping the rebound count by a massive way, and gives her second chances.

Star defenders Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin have a tough task, but the work has to be done in front of them to blunt Aiken. If the Magic's sometimes flaky midcourt can run with the Firebirds young brigade that will force goal attack Amy Wild into putting up more shots.

Her 75.4 per cent isn't so threatening, although against the Magic last time she sunk 19 from 20.

Down the other end Geitz's physical presence will make life tricky for Jo Harten and Ellen Halpenny.

AT A GLANCE

Trans-Tasman League Preliminary Final Queensland Firebirds v Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre Tonight, 9.15pm 

- Waikato Times

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