New Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic coach Julie Fitzgerald has told her players to up their mongrel as they head into their first match of the trans-Tasman league.
The former Australian Diamonds assistant, who led the NSW Swifts from 1997-2007 in the old national competition, then for the first four years of the newly created league, has brought a tough Aussie attitude with her across the ditch.
With a big cleanout at the franchise seeing coach Noeline Taurua and long-time Silver Ferns Irene van Dyk and Laura Langman depart the scene, what the Magic lack in superstar personnel is set to be made up for with a feisty attitude as Fitzgerald moulds a largely new group of players together.
Vice captain Leana de Bruin, who along with captain and fellow defender Casey Kopua are the only regular Silver Ferns in the squad of 13, noted Fitzgerald had already made a big impact.
''I don't really want to call it Aussie style, but I don't know how else to put it,'' de Bruin said.
''You know how they just keep going and going, and I think that's what she would like us to look like more. She wants people, when they come up against us, to really get annoyed because we're in their faces all the time, that type of stuff.
''It's just that real going for the ball 100 per cent and not pulling out because you think you're going to miss it, just that running to the loose ball and making it ours, probably a lift in intensity.''
De Bruin acknowledged that while the Australians brought a big physical style, the New Zealanders do have that side to them too but that it looks different.
''It's not that we've got less mongrel than the Aussies, it's just the fact that they're so good at one-on-one marking and then attacking the ball, whereas we're more space markers then attack the ball. And I think that's just something that she needs to get used to.''
While Fitzgerald won't be making the Magic play the Aussie style of defence, de Bruin said it's handy to have up their sleeves and there would be times they could pull it out depending on the opposition and the state of the game.
''I've been enjoying the fact that I can add something to my bag of tricks,'' the 36-year-old said.
Under Fitzgerald the Magic also have a tweaked weekly schedule, with team training still twice a week, but now Tuesday and Thursday evenings rather than Wednesday nights and Thursday mornings, while gym work is now not done individually.
''There's different time slots when you can go to the gym and our trainer, Sam, is there waiting for us,'' de Bruin said.
''It's been different, but it's quite refreshing actually.''
Fitzgerald has been big on basics like passing and catching, with a particular focus, especially for the young players, on taking the ball hard in the air and turning.
Last weekend's pre-season tournament in Melbourne was the first time all of the Magic players had actually been together, with Silver Ferns commitments and those arriving in from out of town, hindering preparation.
De Bruin acknowledged the ''results were ugly'' and the adrenalin doesn't kick in in pre-season, but that it was a vital stage of learning for the young players.
''I think a few girls didn't realise how tough the Aussies are to mark one-on-one, it always looks easier on TV. So I think they definitely took a lot from that.''
It also gave de Bruin a chance to combine with players she hadn't teamed up with before, which she said had been good for her and took her out of ''that comfort zone'' which you get from playing alongside someone for so long.
''I'm a bit more of a space marker, where some of them are more tight man-on, so it's been a bit of a learning curve for me as well, which is always good, to add stuff to your pockets when you get to my age. And I think when you have to kind of teach someone to play with you, you think more about it and think where you have to go, which helps your game as well.''
The Magic open their campaign with a trip to Christchurch to face the Tactix next Saturday afternoon, and it's likely the visitors won't be trying too much too soon, as they still adjust to one another's games.
''We can't really afford to go out there and try and do flashy stuff at the moment,'' de Bruin said.
''Basically the message from my point of view would just be keep it simple and play real safe netball at the moment.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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