New Zealand's two leading teams got the work-outs they wanted heading into the cauldron of ANZ Championship play-offs netball.
The LG Mystics beat the NSW Swifts 50-49 to earn a spot in the major semi-final while the First Windows Waikato-BOP Magic, who beat the Queensland Firebirds by 10 goals, continue to set the benchmark when it comes to the business end of the championship, having never missed the top four since the league's inception in 2008.
The Magic will now host the sudden-death minor semi-final against the Adelaide Thunderbirds while the Mystics travel to Melbourne to play the Melbourne Vixens at the Rod Laver Arena.
Mystics captain Temepara George believed the hard-fought win over the Swifts was the perfect dress rehearsal for the major semi-final against the Vixens, showing their ability to come from behind and then sustain the pressure in the dying minutes.
The mid-courter was pleased her side was able to bring new players on court and come from four goals down to beat a desperate Swifts side.
"We didn't want to lose," George said after the game.� "I think we started to keep our composure.� The changes worked well as well."
The Mystics went into the final round-robin game without Anna Harrison who has been suffering a calf injury, and despite sitting on the bench, did not feature in the game.
But they called on one of their veterans, Rachel Rasmussen, and a rookie, Jess Moulds, who both stepped up when the pressure went on.
Rasmussen started at goal keep in combination with Kayla Cullen but when the Swifts went into the final quarter with a four-goal lead, Mystics coach Debbie Fuller turned to her bench with Moulds injected into the game and Rasmussen moving to the more unfamiliar goal defence role.
The changes worked well as the Mystics levelled the scores mid-way through the spell and edged ahead, holding their lead to the final whistle.
A "more controlled" second half helped earn the Magic the right to host the minor semi-final on the back of their ninth straight win of the season.
They beat the Firebirds 53-43 in Hamilton and captain Laura Langman was pleased with their performance ahead of the semi-finals, although the Silver Fern will be hoping her side can do more with turnover ball when they meet the Thunderbirds.
"I thought our second half was a lot more controlled," she said of last night's win.� "But we're looking for a little more consistency.� You work so hard to get a turnover so you want to cherish it."
The Magic were unable to shake the Firebirds in the first 30 minutes of play and led 27-24 at halftime, but their work on defence eventually wore the visitors down and forced them into errors.
They also had the edge in the mid-court, led by Langman, and were able to find star shooter Irene van Dyk who had the better of her Firebirds opponent, Laura Geitz, and netted all of her 27 attempts at goal.
Meanwhile, the Haier Pulse came agonisingly close to their first win across the Tasman, only to fall in the final five minutes of play, losing 38-40 to the West Coast Fever in Perth.
The match may have had no impact on the top half of the points table but there was plenty of feeling in this clash with both sides desperate to finish their season with a win.
Captain Katrina Grant again showed her strength from the back of the court, putting plenty of pressure on Perth shooter Caitlin Basset - the Australian Diamond eventually benched which was pivotal in Perth's revival with Catherine Cox more comfortable in the familiar goal shooter role.
Cox found plenty of space in the circle and despite a few anxious moments under the hoop, slotted the crucial goals as the Pulse's high turnover rate - 26 to the Fever's 14 - proved costly in the deciding quarter.
Both the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel and Easiyo Tactix suffered disappointing losses in their last outings of the season.
The Steel were always going to find it tough in Invercargill against the in-form Vixens and looked shell-shocked in the opening quarter against a well-drilled visiting side led by Madison Browne who has been one of the best mid-courters in the league this season.
They trailed 6-17 at quarter time and despite rallying in the second quarter, never really threatened the Vixens as they struggled to penetrate Melbourne's defensive wall, eventually losing 38-56.
The Tactix also found the going tough against a fired-up Thunderbirds defensive unit and lost their final game of the season, 44-65.
Both matches marked the retirement of three New Zealand netballing stalwarts including Steel defender Sheryl Scanlan, and the Tactix duo of captain Maree Bowden and defender Anna Galvan.
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