Casey Kopua fit and firing for season opener

AARON GOILE
Last updated 05:00 25/02/2014
Casey Kopua
Fairfax NZ
SHORT TURNAROUND: Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic captain Casey Kopua and her side have just five days to prepare for their minor semifinal against the NSW Swifts in Sydney.

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Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic captain Casey Kopua is suffering no more ill effects after ankle surgery and is set to play a full part in the trans-Tasman league season, which starts this weekend.

It's just the news the Mainland Tactix didn't want as they prepare to take on the Magic in the opening game of the competition in Christchurch on Saturday afternoon.

Kopua went under the knife in December last year, following the Fast5 tournament, to get a niggly problem sorted ahead of a big year which includes the Commonwealth Games.

She was a passenger on the Silver Ferns' tour to the UK in January and has been carefully easing her way back into training with the Magic.

At the pre-season tournament in Melbourne from February 14-16, Kopua was given just 45 minutes of game-time, with new coach Julie Fitzgerald keeping her star player in cotton wool, mindful of just how crucial she will be to a vastly new Magic lineup.

Kopua said despite a disrupted pre-season, she wasn't trying to play catch-up, but was intent on doing everything possible to be in the best shape she can for Saturday.

"I'm certainly keen to get back on the court. I've had a bit of game-play this week and last week," she said, adding there was no pain or swelling anymore.

"It's really good actually. I did my three quarters in Melbourne and then pretty much have been involved full on since then.

"And you know me, not holding back."

While Kopua might be looked upon as a China doll by her team-mates, following her struggles with injuries in recent times, she has told them to get stuck into her on the training court.

"At the beginning I think they were a bit shy and a bit intimidated is the word that they have used. But I pretty much said that you're not going to be nice to your opponent so why be nice to me, and it's not going to help you if you're nice. You just have to go hard because it makes you better off as a player and as a team in the long run."

With the benefit of hindsight, Kopua has managed to maintain a decent base level of fitness through plenty of biking and swimming - something she didn't do so well when she had surgery on her other ankle in 2011.

"Julie [Fitzgerald] has been quite a taskmaster for that sort of stuff, which has been perfect, it's exactly what I need, the footwork and all that sort of stuff," she said.

Kopua is now looking to get used to running and match fitness, which includes the player-on-player contact that netball has, but is not limited to how many minutes she can take the court for.

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"That's obviously up to Julie, if I'm playing like crap I'll be taken off, I'm guessing. But at this stage, I'm hoping for 60 minutes," the 28-year-old said.

Despite captaining her country since 2009, it is Kopua's first year leading the Magic, and she wants to be out there leading by example.

She's already laid the law down, when the team was in Melbourne, looking to really inspire a side with so many new faces - just four return from last year.

"I had a few harsh words with everybody after a couple of games, just why we're here, what we need to do, and the respect of wearing the Magic dress and what it means to us and all that sort of stuff. Just trying to open their eyes a little bit, but also encourage them and get that team cohesion going because obviously we've got a lot of new players."

It's a nice match for the Magic to have first up, against the Tactix, who finished ninth last year after collecting three successive wooden spoons. However, they look to be an improved outfit and did beat the Magic pre-season.

"We can't take them for granted, but also we have to get into our work early," Kopua said.

"And probably something that Julie and I have tried to get across to the girls is just the urgency and the hunger [required] for the win.

"It's just making sure that there's no surprises, they know what to expect, and work hard is pretty much what we're trying to put across."

- Fairfax Media

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