A poor performance in the major semifinal has severely dented Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic's hopes of winning the trans-Tasman netball league.
The Magic were trounced 50-39 last night by the unbeaten Queensland Firebirds at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, as the visitors were outplayed across the court from early on.
The result means the Firebirds will host the ANZ Championship grand final in Brisbane on Sunday, May 22, where they will face the winner of the preliminary final, which is between the Magic and the Northern Mystics at the Mystery Creek Events Centre at 6.20pm on Sunday.
Even if the Magic were to get another crack at the Firebirds, it would have to be a miraculous turnaround for them to run the Queensland side close.
The Magic have now won three finals matches and lost six.
Last night the Firebirds were on finals debut, but you could have been forgiven for thinking it was the Magic, as the visitors turned over too much ball and their flow through the court stagnated.
The shooting early was tentative, and Firebirds goal keep Laura Geitz ran proceedings, as she smothered Irene van Dyk and eventually picked up seven intercepts and eight deflections.
Van Dyk was largely eliminated from the contest, and she goaled just two from three in the middle two quarters.
The Magic sprung a surprise by starting Casey Williams at goal defence, with Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick at goal keep, and Jodi Tod at wing defence.
But the Firebirds surged out to a 9-2 lead and with the Magic's Julianna Naoupu struggling for any rhythm, at quarter time, 12-8 down, coach Noeline Taurua switched her and van Dyk around, moving them to goal shoot and goal attack respectively in order to get Naoupu stabilised under the post.
But it didn't work, and at a timeout with about five minutes to go in the second quarter, Williams was moved to her usual goal keep spot, Tone-Fitzpatrick went to wing defence, Tod went to goal defence, and Jamilah Gupwell was brought on at goal attack, with van Dyk reverting to goal shoot.
Gupwell was very good, ending with 16 from 18 but it was too little to salvage anything from the game, as Firebirds shooters Romelda Aiken (29/33 at 88 per cent) and Natalie Medhurst (21 from 27 at 78 per cent) took control.
"I think as a whole attacking unit we didn't work well together," Taurua said.
The hosts took a 23-16 lead to halftime and that was turned into a 39-26 advantage heading into the last quarter.
Midway through the third quarter Frances Solia went to wing attack in place of Jess Tuki, and for the fourth quarter the Magic went back to their original defensive lineup which started the game.
Taurua said the raft of changes was about trying to trouble their opponents.
"It was just a matter of changing it to hopefully get in their heads. But I think they were just too good on the night. They were well disciplined, well structured, and they deserved everything."
Taurua was left lamenting a poor start. Her team won enough ball but didn't execute well.
"I think just that start, it really put us on the back foot."
She said the big occasion possibly overawed some of the players.
- Waikato Times
Can the Magic win the final this year?