Could double glory be possible this year for Waikato's elite rugby and netball teams?
At the start of the season one couldn't have imagined a less likely scenario. The Magic finished third last year, while the Chiefs' 10th place was an appropriate sendoff for Ian Foster.
But, all of a sudden, both teams are nicely poised as we enter the mid-winter climax of both international tournaments.
On Monday night the Magic picked up their ninth win in a row in the ANZ championship – a franchise record – edging out the Queensland Firebirds at Claudelands Arena.
The team's turnaround has been dramatic. Coach Noeline Taurua has settled on good combinations, and she credits the improvement on players focusing on getting jobs done rather than on the score – processes not outcomes, as she puts it.
The Magic have terrific momentum as they prepare for a home minor semifinal against Adelaide Thunderbirds, whom they beat by 17 goals in their last outing.
If they win, they're off to the preliminary final in either Auckland or Melbourne against the the losers of the Mystics-Vixens clash. Win that and the Magic are in the grand final.
The Chiefs have shown great composure to shut out close games, and they will need all of that when they come up against the country's most successful franchise, the Crusaders, at Waikato Stadium on Friday.
Although the Chiefs can't be overtaken in the New Zealand conference, a win against the Crusaders is vital as they seek to secure a home semifinal and final.
The last thing the Chiefs want is to find themselves travelling for either a semifinal or final. Neither the Stormers in South Africa nor the Brumbies in Australia are an attractive proposition. History backs that up. In 2009 Ian Foster's Chiefs team was obliterated 61-17 by the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. In 2004 the Chiefs' semifinal against the Brumbies had a similarly disastrous outcome with a 37-20 defeat.
Home advantage will be crucial.
If this is to be the year, Dave Rennie's outfit needs to be using Waikato Stadium as a home fortress.
- Waikato Times