Mystics and Magic should stage top contest
The Northern Mystics have had the wood over their local trans-Tasman netball league rivals in recent times, but that is not provoking the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic ahead of the teams' much-anticipated clash in Auckland tomorrow night.
After winning the first six ANZ Championship clashes between the sides, the Magic have been beaten in the most recent three, each time in Hamilton.
However, Magic captain Laura Langman insisted there was no mental block in coming up against the Aucklanders at Trusts Stadium tomorrow, believing it comes down to what's put on court on the day.
The teams' most recent clash was a 47-41 result in the second round of the season, and while the Mystics have progressed on to go top of the table, a lot has changed since then for the Magic.
They have put together a six-game winning streak to get themselves to fifth spot on the ladder, with some large wins giving them the best goal percentage in the competition. Two wins from their last three matches should be enough to get the Magic to the playoffs.
Langman said that would provide plenty of motivation without needing to think about payback.
"Our motivation probably comes intrinsically in terms of what we want to achieve this season," she said. "We badly want to be in the top four, so that's motivation in itself. I don't think we have to look to external sources to gain motivation. Obviously it's a big game and you want to get up for those games."
After losing their first four matches of the season, the Magic were forced into a virtual sudden-death situation from there on in. So far, it's worked wonders.
"We changed our focus to game by game and what we needed to do for each game," Langman said.
"So we're not looking at the ladder, we're not looking at goal differential, we're just looking at the task at hand and want to do a good job.
"We haven't even looked at the playoffs yet, we've got three more opportunities in this ANZ Championship 2012 and we just want to make the most of them."
Langman felt her team's ability to quickly establish their links in a game had made things flow a lot better. Their trainings had been "really productive", with nothing different being introduced.
"We've kept everything simple and really looking at what we're doing well, and that's what we want to exploit. Our trainings have been very clinical and the tone has been set from previous trainings; we haven't changed a lot, we're just covering what we need to, nothing wacky or crazy is going on.
"When you get down to this end of the season you don't want them to drag out, you want to get in, do your work and get home, really."
Both ends of the court have always been strong points for the Magic, with the positions alongside Langman in the midcourt proving the toughest to fill, though Elias Shadrock and Khao Watts are doing a superb job at present.
Langman described the contest against the northern neighbours as "massive", with the Mystics' players "all Silver Fern quality".
Goal shoot Cathrine Latu is the most accurate shooter in the competition at 97.7 per cent and her and Maria Tutaia's match-up against Casey Williams and Leana de Bruin will be intriguing.
At the other end of the court, the Magic are prepared to face the "Harrison Hoist", and in the middle the Mystics boast the experience of Temepara George and English international Jade Clarke. "So it's going to be a massive challenge for us in every aspect of the game and in every position, but we're really looking forward to it," Langman said. "We've had really good training this week and everyone's in a good space."
The Mystics, Langman felt, would not be frightened by the Magic's impressive form leading into this one.
"No, to be honest, not at all. Although they haven't had the massive margins, they've been getting across the line and at the end of the day that's all that matters.
"Lots of their players have had playing experience and court time which is a huge benefit to them, so I think they will be reasonably confident in their form, and I think they're entitled to be."
In what is shaping as a close contest, the match may follow a season trend, with 51 per cent of this year's matches being decided by five goals or less and 75 per cent being within 10 – this season set to be the most tightly fought on record.