Magic looking to keep the ball rolling
Riding a two-from-two wave and playing some exciting netball, the Magic may well have done their part to give themselves a healthy home crowd advantage tonight.
Having been slapped together from all parts of the country under the guidance of a new coach from across the ditch, fans' expectations were understandably low of this Waikato-Bay of Plenty side this year. Pre-season form indicated nothing good was coming, and the prospect of sparse stadiums was on the cards.
But this coaching and playing group have opened the trans-Tasman league season in super fashion, with big wins on the road against the Mainland Tactix and Northern Mystics, so should expect a decent turnout for tonight's match against the Southern Steel at the 4000-capacity Claudelands Arena.
The Steel come to town on the back of double-digit losses at home to the Queensland Firebirds and away to the Central Pulse, with their campaign already in need of a boost.
It's a lineup which features more toilers than big names, but the key to shutting the Steel down is to keep 1.98m goal shoot Jhaniele Fowler-Reid quiet.
The 24-year-old Jamaican, with 51 tests, was last year's competition MVP in her debut season, shooting an incredible average of 51 goals a game at 93.9 per cent. So far this year, in six quarters of netball she has netted 62 from 67.
But tonight she comes up against arguably the league's best defensive duo in Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin, who have already been instrumental in pulling down lots of ball for the Magic.
Captain Kopua acknowledged the tall task on their hands but noted it wasn't just about one person at the back of the court.
"And that's something that [coach] Julie [Fitzgerald] says, seven attackers and seven defenders. So we'll certainly have to get our jumping shoes on, but really looking forward to it," Kopua said.
"Every team has their weaknesses. We have ours. So it's just trying to exploit those."
Kopua said the defensive task would involve separating the opposition and to make them play as individuals, with a continual grind which may not pay dividends early on, but perhaps provide a crucial turnover later in the piece.
Kopua said she and de Bruin obviously couldn't get every ball but was very pleased with how they had worked as a unit, and believed their leadership roles had grown their relationship.
On the attacking front, the Magic are after a more composed performance with the ball, having committed 23 turnovers against the Mystics.
"I think that's just experience, and once you've felt what that feels like before, then you know how to deal with it," Kopua said.
"So it's great that the girls have been put in those situations and exposed to that level of pressure. And I think we can only grow with more time together."
Kopua admitted that following the pre-season she still wasn't sure what her team was capable of, but now confidence in the group is high.
"I think everybody got so hyped up for that Mystics game, it took a while to come down and relax from that," she said.
But they know the value of not getting complacent, and the strong character amongst this team is serving them well.
"Yeah, I think that's what we're about," Kopua said.
"We work hard, we do the basics well and we work together as a team, and that's what we want. That's the way the Magic culture is. It's not all about one person or one performance.
"Everybody's there for each other, nobody's there just for themselves, everybody's working really hard. And off the court as well, everybody's getting on, and that's great for on court, so if someone's struggling you know that they're going to have your back no matter what."