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From the back of the net

WaiBOP Magic 56, Northern Mystics 50
Claudelands Arena, Hamilton, April 21 2014

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Every now and again I post here about different sports other than football that I get a lot of pleasure out of watching, and one of those sports is netball. Netball is a wonderful game. It’s fast, it’s physical, and it’s almost always close with the game seesawing and unpredictable right until the end. It’s also almost exclusively played by women, which, as I wrack my brains, I believe is pretty close to unique. Unlike basketball, which I have to confess is one game that bores the living crap out of me, the rules of netball are logical, simple and the game is easy to follow.

But what I love most about netball is the way it makes me feel. It is second only to football in the ranks of sports that never fail to get me jumping off the couch and screaming at the TV. There’s just something about it. A huge fan of the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic (predictably enough) since their founding; I have been known to scare the neighbours with my repeated letting out of rather loud involuntary expletives during their games. When they go into extra time I can’t even watch – I have to go and make a cup of coffee, tidy up the kitchen, load the dishwasher, anything to avoid seeing what’s happening and potentially jinxing the team. Instead of watching, I listen nervously to the commentators for clues as to what’s going on, and sneak the odd, hesitant, fearful look at the score…

And one more thing: As someone who is used to supporting Waikato football, Waikato netball is pure luxury! The Magic are, *gasp*, actually quite successful!! The Trans-Tasman Netball League consists of five teams from New Zealand and five from Australia, but in its 8th year, the Magic are the only New Zealand team to have won it. They have consistently been the best performing kiwi franchise each season. Even this year, when they were expected to struggle after the retirement of their founding coach, and the departure of many of their star players, including international centre and hometown favourite Laura Langman and arguably the best shooter of all time, Irene van Dyk.

They brought in Australian coach Julie Fitzgerald, who has been a breath of fresh air, expertly constructing a TEAM. Not just a team, but a real TEAM who complement each other and come together as a force greater than the sum of their parts.

Sure, there are still stars. I could watch Silver Fern defenders Casey Kopua and Leana De Bruin all day long – Kopua’s acrobatic intercepts are a real thrill every time and De Bruin is a rock in the defensive circle. And with no disrespect to van Dyk, who let’s face it is 41 years old, her replacement England International Jo Harten is like an energiser bunny crossed with a deadly sniper! In the midcourt, we’ve got Jamie-Lee Price at wing defence, daughter of Warriors legend Steven Price, who is like a terrier – Into absolutely everything. Centre Courtney Tairi, daughter of former New Zealand legend Theresa Tairi, and wing attack Grace Rasmussen have brought much needed level heads to the midcourt. And at goal attack, Ellen Halpenny is a brilliant foil for Harten, able to take the pressure off where need be and slot the goals from wide out when she has to.

Last night’s game was a must win for players and fans alike. Any Waikato or WaiBOP game of anything against Auckland opposition always is. But the extra significance was twofold. In terms of the competition, following a heart stopping extra time loss to van Dyk’s Central Pulse two weeks ago and a bye last week, the Magic needed the win to return to the top of the league. In terms of the sentiment, it was Magic founding player Laura Langman’s 100th game in the Trans-Tasman Netball League – and she was playing it for the mortal enemy. That party simply had to be spoiled. And it was. With a commanding performance. Only really falling behind once, the Magic always looked to have it under control. Mystics shooter Catherine Latu had a pretty poor game by her standards and the Magic midcourt was quite simply superior.

But the real winner on the day was Claudelands Arena. The hour and a half road trip down to Hamilton was absolutely worth it to experience the closeness to the court that our $40 tickets brought us, near as dammit to courtside, right behind the goal net, in this beautiful new facility with an electric atmosphere. It was my first visit but I vow it won’t be my last. This is our season. GO MAGIC!

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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