Magic coach Noeline Taurua is hoping a major change in finals preparation this year will be the telling difference for her side to claim their first trans-Tasman netball title.
The Waikato-Bay of Plenty outfit take on the Northern Mystics in the ANZ Championship preliminary final in Auckland tonight, with the winner booking a grand final spot in Melbourne against the Vixens and the loser left to rue what might have been.
The team's lead-in work has been quite different this week, as Taurua said they had begun to “taper off”, “not doing the quantity of work, but definitely quality”.
That has come about from a change in attitude from the outset of the season in trying to answer the question of why a title has been out of the Magic's reach.
"Heading into finals we've always gone really hard out," Taurua said, as the Magic previously ran extra trainings and went "berserk" in their preparation. "But leading into these weeks, because we've been doing a lot of repetitious stuff, which is totally different to what we've done in the past, we don't need to go hard out.
"It's making sure that we remain mentally fresh plus also physically fresh.
"We're going in there real hard, very mentally tough and prepared. I think we're as best prepared as we can be."
The Magic philosophy has been to keep building steadily and their 10 consecutive wins have garnered them plenty of momentum heading into this one.
Taurua said the intangibles like the character and the heart of the team were better than ever.
From the thrilling victory in the first round of the playoffs, she also has added faith that her team can get out of trouble if need be.
Conversely, the Mystics are coming off a loss in the major semifinal against the Vixens, and in the past three years of the competition the side that has lost that fixture has also gone on to lose the preliminary final.
But Taurua knew her side couldn't take things for granted.
"They're a very good team," she said.
"I think, also, they'll be riding high on energy of a home venue and also probably Temepara [George] as well, being in her last year with Mystics, so their energy will be very high."
There will be terrific match-ups right across the court tonight, with a truckload of Silver Ferns on show.
Goal shoots Cathrine Latu and Irene van Dyk have hardly missed a shot this season, and it will be intriguing to see how their respective goal attacks, Maria Tutaia and Julianna Naoupu, fare in the pressure cooker.
Both teams' defence has been superb, with the Mystics' Anna Harrison able to be hoisted by Kayla Cullen or Jessica Moulds and the Magic's Leana de Bruin and Casey Williams extremely uncompromising.
Previous encounters between the sides won't count for much tonight, but the Magic have the history, winning eight of the 11 games, and all five at The Trusts Stadium.
This contest mirrors last year's preliminary final, which the Mystics took by one goal in Hamilton after the Magic threw away an early lead.
Whoever plays the calmest netball, taking the best options, will prevail tonight.
AT A GLANCE
What: ANZ Championship preliminary final
Who: Northern Mystics v Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic
Where: The Trusts Stadium, Auckland
When: 7.40 tonight
TAB Odds: Mystics $2.00, Magic $1.75
- Waikato Times