Expect a more attacking display from the Adelaide Thunderbirds tonight, compared with their last outing against the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic.
Just 16 days ago the same two sides met in the penultimate round of the regular season in Mt Maunganui, with the Magic thrashing the visitors 59-42.
But Thunderbirds coach Jane Woodlands-Thompson learnt from that loss that her side took too conservative a game plan into that match and knows they can do far better in tonight's minor semifinal.
"You learn more about yourselves when you lose so it's given us a terrific motivational tool to really examine which areas of the game we will need to change," Woodlands-Thompson said, adding that plenty of video analysis had been done.
Since that game the Thunderbirds responded with a 21-goal thumping of the Canterbury Tactix, and Woodlands-Thompson was happy to again be playing a New Zealand side, so her team can keep to the structures they put in place when facing the Kiwi outfits.
"It is a different style, they tend to sit off in zones and off the body a little bit through the midcourt and out of defence," Woodlands-Thompson said of the New Zealand style.
"And [Leana] de Bruin and [Casey] Williams are just a class act back there, there's not a lot of room in that circle, so we take apart the mechanics of that and try and figure out ways that we can best adapt our game. But at the same time we've done as well as we have playing our style, so we don't want to change everything."
Woodlands-Thompson is one of three coaches in the competition to have been with the same side through all five years, along with the Magic's Noeline Taurua and the Melbourne Vixens' Julie Hoornweg.
She has taken the Thunderbirds to the playoffs four times, missing out last year after winning the title in 2010 by defeating the Magic in the grand final.
And the Thunderbirds' playoffs record is very good, winning five of their seven matches.
"We love finals, we're really looking forward to this year's, particularly as it's been just so hard to get to," Woodlands-Thompson said.
"Five from seven is a great record for us and we're proud of that as a club. We like to think it's by design.
"We pick players who don't abate under pressure and who enjoy the challenge of finals and don't back away from it, they just step up rather than step back."
Their two playoff losses have come on the road but Woodlands-Thompson said the team was a very close one and they generally travel well.
Though this is the Thunderbirds' fifth trip across the Tasman this season – and that their journeys are always split up because there's never direct flights from Adelaide – Woodlands-Thompson said they would not be blaming fatigue if they put out a flat performance.
And they're happy to be in Hamilton, too, after "a big vomiting bus ride" to Mt Maunganui last time when the main highway was closed.
While the Magic could be seen as vulnerable at playoff time considering their inability to win the big games, Woodlands-Thompson felt they were showing different things this year and that Irene van Dyk was playing as good as she's ever seen her.
"I think the Magic are the form team leading into finals," she said.
"They've come good at the right time and full credit to them, they lost their first four and they've just rebounded so strongly, and that is indicative of the quality of the players on that team and their coaching staff of course."
The Thunderbirds have a full squad to choose from, including experienced centre Natalie von Bertouch, who is still battling with a finger she fractured against the Magic.
"The good thing is it can be splinted and taped and she basically won't feel a thing, so it's just re-learning how to pass with four fingers instead of five," Woodlands-Thompson said.
- © Fairfax NZ News