Southern Steel look to continue their march in front of home crowd in Invercargill - April 10, 2017
by ANDREW VOERMAN & LOGAN SAVORY
The Southern Steel have quickly developed into the team to beat in the ANZ Championship - now it is time for them to deliver in front of their faithful.
The Steel will play their first home game of the 2017 season on Monday night after back to back wins in the first two weeks of the competition.
Steel beat the Northern Stars 75-57 in week one and then the Northern Mystics 74-67 last week.
The Reinga Bloxham-coached team now have the challenge of the unbeaten Waikato/BOP Magic in front of them as they attempt to make it three from three in the game at ILT Stadium Southland.
The Steel only need to cast their mind back to last year to realise how the Magic can catch you off guard.
It's only the third round of the ANZ Premiership, so it's hard to call any match a big one.
But if you were to use that descriptor this early, Monday night's clash would be worthy.
Historically, these have been the country's two strongest teams, and they are the last two to remain unbeaten this year, but have got there via divergent paths.
Last July, they met in Invercargill in the New Zealand conference final of the ANZ Championship, where the Magic won, despite being regarded as rank outsiders by the bookies, paying $8 to the Steel's $1.06.
All seven Steel starters from that match have returned this season, while the Magic only have two - plus Casey Kopua, who was on the sidelines as an assistant coach.
That exodus of experience meant the Magic had to rebuild as the ANZ Championship became the ANZ Premiership, and the Australian teams disappeared, which could have meant a slow start, if not a slow season entirely.
So far, however, that rebuild seems to be happening at rapid pace.
Their goal shoot Lenize Potgieter, looks to be the pick of the imports, outside the Steel's returnee at the same position, Jhaniele Fowler-Reid; defender Kelly Jury looks to have made a step up from her debut season, perhaps buoyed by being handed a Silver Ferns dress earlier this year; and fellow youngsters Ariana Cable-Dixon (at centre) and Monica Falkner (at goal attack) have looked the part as well.
What remains to be seen is the extent to which the Magic's success so far has been aided by their opposition, as there is no question the Steel are another step up from the teams they have dispatched on their way to a 3-0 start.
After two easy wins to start the season, over the Mainland Tactix and the Northern Stars, the Magic were given a real test by the Central Pulse last Wednesday in Rotorua, eventually prevailing 52-50.
Coach Margaret Forsyth said the close nature of that third game would stand her side in good stead for Monday night's showdown.
"For them to have that experience, certainly it's going to put them in a much better position for our game against the Steel.
"It will be a great challenge for us and this is a team that likes a challenge and that likes to come to the contest."
First centre pass for Monday's game is at 7.40pm.
AT A GLANCE
What: ANZ Premiership
Who: Steel vs Magic
Where: ILT Stadium Southland, Invercargill
When: Monday 7:40pm