Waikato-Bay of Plenty's Magic looks still there

21:35, Mar 02 2014

Well that wasn't so bad was it?

In fact, the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic couldn't have welcomed in a new era in any better style.

Following a cleanout of experienced players and coaches, and massively lowered expectations on New Zealand's standout franchise, the Magic started afresh with a 70-46 trouncing of the Mainland Tactix in Christchurch on Saturday.

It was a stunning first-up effort from a side which the TAB had as underdogs for the match which opened the trans-Tasman league season.

And it will now have everyone sitting up and taking notice, not that new Magic coach Julie Fitzgerald was much concerned with her team making a big statement.

"I don't really care, we're just concerned about ourselves," she said.

"We're just going to play each game as it comes and try to improve on our own game."

The Australian, making history as the first coach to cross the ditch in this competition, admitted she was extremely nervous going into the game - a culmination of the fact she was leading a different team, their pre-season form was poor, the Tactix's was great, and that preparation time had been short.

But she needn't have worried. Her players were outstanding.

The Tactix, so often the whipping girls of the competition but appearing more stable this year, didn't play too badly. They were just outdone by a surprisingly slick Magic outfit.

It really did run like clockwork on court, somehow.

"I am very happy," Fitzgerald said.

"Obviously coming into it I just wasn't sure what we were going to produce, and I'm very, very proud of them, I think they were terrific."

Casey Kopua, fresh off ankle surgery and captaining the side for the first time, was a colossus in defence, picking up five intercepts in an inspirational display.

The Tactix's Malawi international Mwai Kumwenda shot 29/30 in her first game in the competition, but Kopua's work with fellow Silver Fern Leana de Bruin created plenty of pressure on the hosts' shooters and created several turnovers.

Up the other end, England shooter Jo Harten (41/42) and goal attack Ellen Halpenny (29/32) were also superb, with the latter showing a more dynamic side to her game and creating space for her team-mate.

But perhaps the most significant positive out of the match was how good the midcourt looked, considering the mishmash nature it had taken on, with players very unknown to one another.

Grace Rasmussen slotted in seamlessly at wing attack, Courtney Tairi flowed beautifully from centre, and Bessie Manu made her presence felt at wing defence.

Fitzgerald was aware the midcourt had "been maligned a bit" but was excited about what lay ahead as their combinations grew.

A bonus was that she was able to get both her 18-year-olds on court - Jamie-Lee Price replacing Manu at halftime and debutant Samantha Sinclair coming on for Tairi for the last quarter - such was the big lead.

The Magic trailed 8-5 early on and, soon after, de Bruin called time for treatment to a rolled ankle, but that was as bad as it got for the visitors, as they powered away to go into quartertime up 19-12.

"I just think there were a few early nerves and we had a timeout there and I think there was a little bit of time to settle, everyone got a little bit more confidence back, and we went for things a little bit more than we were when we first started," Fitzgerald said.

Tactix coach Leigh Gibbs then tinkered with her lineup till the end, and, clearly rattled, the home side were never allowed back in the contest.

While the large margin of victory was great, delighting Fitzgerald more was that her side won all four quarters.

However, there's no time to get carried away, with the Northern Mystics next on the agenda, in Auckland next Monday night.

"There were passages in the game where I thought we faded in and out of the game a little bit, our court balance wasn't always there as much as we'd quite want it," Fitzgerald said of things to work on.

"We've won one game, there's 12 more to go."


Waikato Times