Magic players to be nursed through the week

HITTING THE DECK: Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic captain Casey Kopua will be carefully managed ahead of the trip to Melbourne.
HITTING THE DECK: Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic captain Casey Kopua will be carefully managed ahead of the trip to Melbourne.

The cotton wool will be pulled out at Magic training this week, as coach Julie Fitzgerald looks to keep her stars fresh for a huge game in Melbourne.

Coming off a physical battering in their 61-57 win over the Southern Steel in Hamilton on Monday night, the top-of-the-table Magic are conscious of not over-doing things in the limited time they have till Sunday afternoon's match against the Vixens.

The Waikato-Bay of Plenty side will assemble in Auckland on Friday night and fly to Australia on Saturday morning.

''I think we'll have to be a little bit careful how we judge the week,'' Fitzgerald said. ''I think there'll be some sore bodies coming off the game. So we'll try and be very specific in what we do and not over-tax them too much so they can still be fresh for Sunday as well. It's a short turnaround after such a physical game.''

Skipper Casey Kopua is one, in particular, who the light duties are designed for, with the inspirational defender suffering a couple of heavy blows in the latest game.

One knock into towering Steel goal shoot Jhaniele Fowler-Reid had Kopua clutching her head as she ran back into position up court, while a heavy landing  had everyone holding their breath.

''That fall she had down here under the post scared the life out of me,'' Fitzgerald said. ''I thought she'd really hurt herself on that. I was very grateful to see her get back up again.''

The 28-year-old had just 45 minutes of pre-season play following ankle surgery, while her partner in crime, Leana de Bruin, isn't getting any younger at 36 and has been battling an ongoing back problem.

The duo are just too valuable for the Magic to lose, with the depth in the squad thin.

''That intercept of Casey's is just worth millions, it was a perfect time for it to happen,'' Fitzgerald said of her captain's handywork late in the game.

"Leana had such a hard job, but she got the balls that she could get a hand to, and that's all you can ask from her in a game like that.''

The Magic and the Adelaide Thunderbirds are now the only two unbeaten teams in the competition, with the former sitting higher because of goal percentage - not that Fitzgerald is getting too excited after three games.

She was particularly pleased with a come-from-behind win because it showed ''courage and the character to fight their way out of a hole'', but her players now have to test themselves against the might of Aussie opposition.

''The Vixens are a beautiful side and it's definitely going to be a step up for us next week.'' she said.

The ball constantly lost on attack by the Magic was ''definitely a worry'' and Fitzgerald said they would need to do a better job of stopping the ball across the defensive transverse line.

Part of that job will fall to Jamie-Lee Price, who may see more game time after a superb showing off the bench against the Steel.

''I am happy with her,'' Fitzgerald said.

''With her it's a matter of knowing when to contest and perhaps not pull out. But she brought an energy to that end of the court.

''She really puts it out there. We were just sagging back and putting our arms up and we needed someone to get in there and have a crack at the ball.''

Another of those in the midcourt, Courtney Tairi, was also full of praise for the 18-year-old.

''I think Jamie-Lee Price came on really well, and she stuck to Shannon [Francois] like glue pretty much, which was great, gave us a bit of momentum and helped our defenders out to help them get a few intercepts. So for us we had the momentum in the third [quarter] and we knew that we should just carry it on to the fourth.''

Tairi was ''absolutely stoked'' to bag a win over her former side, and said she was ''absolutely loving'' her time here.

''We haven't had that much time together, and I think what we've developed so far on court is, I guess, in regards to how well we get on off the court, and I guess living with a few team-mates helps that as well.''

Fairfax Media