Despite the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic's amazing form reversal catapulting them into trans-Tasman netball league title contention, it would take only a minor slip tonight for all that hard work to be undone.
On the back of four straight losses to open their ANZ Championship campaign, the Magic have sensationally strung together a franchise record nine successive wins to give themselves a chance of writing the last chapter of their fairytale.
Having claimed third spot on the ladder, the Magic tonight host the fourth placed Adelaide Thunderbirds in the sudden-death minor semifinal at Claudelands Arena in Hamilton.
The Magic are the favourites – they are playing such quality netball, they are at home in front of 4000 fans, and they thrashed the Thunderbirds by 17 goals in Mt Maunganui 16 days ago.
But the Thunderbirds are no slouches.
They also won nine games in the regular season, their recent drubbing at the hands of the Magic will help spur them on, and their record in playoffs games is far superior to that of their hosts.
The Thunderbirds have won five of seven finals matches while the Magic are three from 10.
The Magic are the only side to make the playoffs every year, with the Thunderbirds missing out last season, after winning the title in 2010 – beating the Magic in the grand final.
But for all that's gone before, this is a "clean slate", according to Magic coach Noeline Taurua.
"We're just there to be better than the previous week and to work hard for each other," Taurua said of her side's philosophy.
"It'll be interesting how they do play up against us, but when you get into playoffs everything else is erased.
"So it's just us being in the moment."
Awaiting tonight's winners is a trip to Auckland to face the Northern Mystics in the preliminary final after they were yesterday defeated 56-50 in the major semifinal at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne by the Vixens, who have secured hosting rights for the grand final.
However, there is 60 minutes of netball to get through before either minor semifinalist contemplates that.
Although it's playoff time, nothing has changed in the Magic's preparation, with Taurua keen to keep their same systems and routines in place which have been working well.
"It seems to work, not only in the physical nature, but also mentally, because we know what it is," she said.
"And we're at the moment of fine-tuning everything, which is very good, so it means that we don't have to press for quantity, so it's just quality now.
"We're gaining some really good momentum. I feel we are building and we are putting strong performances out there. And we're looking to be quite solid as a team and also in units, and I'm happy."
There are no injury worries for the Magic, despite several players coming out of the last match with leg soreness, which was blamed on the controversial Claudelands court.
Keeping the same seven together on court has worked wonders, so it's crucial they can all contribute again.
Wing attack Khao Watts and wing defence Elias Shadrock have been the revelations in the side, providing superb links between the Magic's strong attack and defence.
The duo's finals experience is nil though and it will be interesting to see what the added pressure does to them.
When the sides last met, the Magic had a field day getting the ball to Irene van Dyk, so expect Sharni Layton, Rebecca Bulley, Renae Hallinan and Natalie von Bertouch – with 127 Australian caps between them – to be more aware this time.
The teams have met eight times previously, with the Magic leading the results 5-3. On home court that record is 4-1, however in playoff matches the Thunderbirds lead 2-1.
- © Fairfax NZ News