The hunt for a finals berth is over for Splice Construction Magic but defender Erena Mikaere is determined her team will have an impact on who makes the cut - starting with the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel on Monday night.
In the remaining rounds Magic will play four teams striving for the ANZ Premiership finals series – and could snatch valuable points if their fortunes change.
“We’ve got them all – Steel, Pulse, Tactix and Stars – so we at least need to put some pressure on. It’s about us as a team and what we can do to finish off the season strongly,” Mikaere said.
She will be hoping the phrase ‘third time’s a charm’ rings true as Magic face Steel for the third time in four weeks. Steel has bragging rights after clinching a 59-58 win in round 8 and a hefty 65-50 victory in Monday night’s clash at ILT Stadium Southland.
“There are both some advantages and disadvantages to it. On one hand you’re like ‘aw, not again’, but on the other, especially for us, you can do your homework and hope you can come out better,” she said.
“After our performance just been, you would hope we would go away, learn a bit more and come back in and have a game as good as the first time we met them this season.”
After a season with Steel in 2014, Mikaere is no stranger to the challenge of winning in the south.
“It’s always a hard task winning in Invercargill. I know firsthand your supporters are just unreal and the stadium is beautiful. Then add into the equation you go down there to a completely different weather change – we saw snow and sleet moments before the game.”
With England international George Fisher ruled out of the last encounter due to concussion, Steel introduced a new shooting combination in Tiana Metuarau and temporary recruit Grace Namana – the duo shooting a staggering 97 percent and 93 percent respectively.
“You never underestimate someone who hasn’t actually had that exposure or time. Defensively you know nothing or little about them and they have nothing to lose and everything to prove,” Mikaere said.
“Curly (coach Reinga Bloxham) has done an amazing job bringing them through the ranks and they came out and hit us in a stadium that was pumped with amazing supporters.
“It didn’t surprise us – it just meant as a team we had to all be on our game and unfortunately right through the court we had issues.”
It’s been a frustrating season on the court at times with just one win, but Mikaere was enjoying other aspects of the game.
“I have really enjoyed our team, the girls and what we’ve put together as a culture behind Magic. I’ve really enjoyed being home in Rotorua and setting up my own place and being there for my daughter when she’s needed me,” she said.
“On the netball side of things, obviously it could have been better results wise. Performance wise, I feel like there is so much more for me to give. I love to learn and I think this season hasn’t really scratched the surface of it. There’s still a lot more passion and energy in me to want to do more and be better – it’s all hidden behind the frustration of the results.”
After her stint at Steel, Mikaere was the first New Zealand player recruited for an Australian franchise and spent two years with West Coast Fever followed by two years at Sunshine Coast Lightning. She then joined Mystics in 2019 and returned to Magic last year.
“I’ve done some miles and racked up some air points, that’s for sure.”
“When I turned up in Invercargill the other day, it did feel like home. I just realised that any place I go, if you fully commit you do fall in love with that place. And that’s the same love I have for Invercargill and for Perth and for Sunshine Coast. They are happy places for me.”
Southern fans can watch the game live on Sky Sport at 7pm on Monday. Steel will then return home to contest the Georgie Salter Memorial against the Mystics in Invercargill on July 11. Tickets are available from ILT Stadium Southland or online at www.ticketek.co.nz.
Injury update: Fisher has this week been cleared by medical staff to begin her return to play plan, involving exercises increasing in intensity. No decision has yet been made if she will play against Magic as it will depend on her tolerance and response to activity.