De Bruin battles the pain for Magic cause

TOP DEFENDER: Magic star player Leana de Bruin fights for the ball against the Mystic's Cathrine Latu.
TOP DEFENDER: Magic star player Leana de Bruin fights for the ball against the Mystic's Cathrine Latu.

Leana de Bruin is fighting a back injury, but the pain she's experiencing is nothing compared to the delight of helping the Magic notch another win.

The 36-year-old defender was a force to be reckoned with in the Waikato-Bay of Plenty team's 50-36 victory over the Northern Mystics in Auckland on Monday night, teaming superbly once more with Casey Kopua to rattle the home side's shooters.

The South African-born Silver Fern - with a total of 108 tests to her name - has been a constant ball-winning star for the Magic since her return to the franchise in 2012, when she went on to be the player of the grand final in the win over the Vixens in Melbourne.

And it turns out her recent exploits have been completed under the duress of an onoing back injury which saw her require treatment in the third quarter of Monday's game.

''I've got a little bit of a back issue at the moment, but it's nothing serious. I've just got to make sure I recover well and take a few extra painkillers every so often,'' de Bruin said.

''I think it's just the pressure of the jumping and the tough physical battle that you sometimes get under the post. But it's part of the game and you've just got to look after it.

''Some weeks are better than others, but I've got a good physio team behind me... managing that well.''

De Bruin was last year ruled out of two Ferns tests against Australia with a calf injury and it's crucial for the Magic's chances that she's fit. Kopua has also had her fair share of injury troubles.

That duo has built up a strong understanding and will trouble any of the league's shooting combinations. De Bruin is crediting new coach Julie Fitzgerald for the defensive diligence of the Magic.

''Julie is really a person that wants every ball contested,'' she said.

''And I think that's one part of Casey's and my game that we're learning about. And it seems to pay off. We might not get as many clean intercepts as we like, but we're forcing a lot of errors.

''[It's about] just being smart in what to actually go for. It's still a little bit new. It's just they catch the ball under pressure every time and you're right in their face when they do have it. It's still something that we work on every week and just doing a few different foot drills and stuff to keep those feet going. I just think it's something we can add to our game which obviously has some results.''

De Bruin was glad to get the better of Ferns team-mates Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Latu on Monday, noting that combination is ''one of our biggest rivals'' because they know them so well. But a big focus was to actually disrupt the Mystics' new-look midcourt and get into the feeders' heads, de Bruin said.

The Magic may have been able to enter the season somewhat under the radar, but will now have to combat other teams lifting against them, such is their early form.

''We were definitely the underdog-type of team. And I think teams are actually quite surprised at what we're putting out on court at the moment,'' de Bruin said.

A mini-example of that was how the Mystics came back hard in the third quarter and scored six on the trot, which de Bruin said was an ''eye-opener'' for some of her side.

''I've learnt in the past 10 goals is not actually a big lead in this game any more. I think everybody knows that but hasn't quite experienced it.''

De Bruin is loath to get too excited about the team's prospects, but said the win would be enjoyed for a day or two and the players would keep learning from each other. She said the belief in one another - a key to winning big games under pressure - was fantastic already.

''I think our benchies are just amazing as well. We all work together as a team and I think that's what we can be the most proud of, that we feel like a family. And you can see on the court that just those links, when they're not there, we still believe that we can do it.''

The Magic train on Thursday and Saturday ahead of next Monday night's match against the Southern Steel at Claudelands Arena, with de Bruin looking forward to playing in front of the home fans.

''It's another big game, Steel have got some amazing talent. And obviously having [Jhaniele] Fowler-Reid down there brings its own challenges. And hopefully after the two performances we've put in people will really come and support us.''

Waikato Times