Weeks of battling for survival has left Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic well prepared for their key ANZ Championship netball clash against the Queensland Firebirds in Hamilton on Monday.
Riding eight straight wins, the latest and most impressive being a 17-goal dissection of the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Magic have improved to such an extent they are now the form team of the competition with one round of the regular season remaining. After four opening losses came close to derailing their season almost before it had begun, Magic have lived on a knife edge, but a win over the defending champions would cement a spot in the Finals Series for the fifth successive year, a seemingly impossible scenario a few short weeks ago.
The big question is whether they can maintain the calibre of performance achieved in recent weeks.
``The pressure's there but it's not a pressure that we're fearful of because we know what this pressure's all about?..we've had it since round three,'' Magic coach Noeline Taurua said. ``It has helped us build to where we are now and that's in a good space.''
Describing the win against Thunderbirds as Magic's most complete of the season and mindful of the work that's gone on behind the scenes, Taurua is confident the processes that have served the team so well in recent weeks will remain in place for whatever the Firebirds, who must win and rely on other results to make the play-offs, throw at them.
``There's always risk and some times you don't know that until you get into a game as to where the players are at, and that doesn't change,'' she said. ``There's always the possibility that someone else is going to be better than you on the day.
``We can play the Magic way which is turn and let the ball go but I feel over the weeks we've been playing that disciplined style as well. I just feel we've got enough in our back pocket that if things aren't going right we can play real tight simple netball to get ourselves through.''
As has been the Magic style this year, mainly due to circumstance, there has been a cautious one game at a time approach. The booster of a winning record in recent weeks has nonetheless been tempered by their perilous situation with the perennial semifinalist taking until round 11 to jump into the top four for the first time. Having patiently bided their time, the mindset remains the same for the last clash of round 14, during which the semifinalists will be decided.
``We know we've got one more game and in that game we know we've got control over what we can do,'' Taurua said.
``We really want to finish this round robin as best can while still keeping the same philosophy that we've been tracking along with for the last three months which is about us looking to be better and working hard to show that in our performance. That philosophy won't change.
``We're not getting carried away with anything. We know you can be good one week and the next week momentum can change, so we're not taking anything for granted.''
Taurua has kept a wary eye on the Firebirds and an improving second half to their season after they made a similarly disastrous opening to their campaign.
``Early on they lacked a bit of consistency but as the weeks have gone on, I've definitely seen much more evidence of their great form of last year,'' she said. ``They have the ability to score quickly and prolifically if they're in the mood.''
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