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Magic stun Steel to win NZ conference

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 17/07/2016

Proven play-off performers Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic have stunned the Southern Steel 59-57 to be crowned New Zealand conference champions in the trans-Tasman league.

The Steel lost their season-long unbeaten record courtesy of a slow start to the final in Invercargill, trailing by 11 goals at one point in the first half before launching a fightback.

It wasn't enough to halt a Magic side who will host a semi-final next weekend.

Their opponents will be the losing team from the Australian conference final on Monday, between the Queensland Firebirds and NSW Swifts.

The winners of that game will host the Steel in the other semi.

The Steel had won both of their regular season games against the Magic but they were knocked off their stride early on, with the Hamilton-based outfit at last able to field a full-strength side.

A standout for the visitors was wing defence Jamie-Lee Price, the daughter of former Kangaroos and Warriors rugby league player Steve Price.

She effected three intercepts and five deflections, restricting space for Steel wing attack Gina Crampton, who has been one of the southerners' best all year.

Without Crampton's regular supply, opportunities were reduced for prolific goal shoot Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, who still sunk 47 of 53 shots for the Steel.

England international shooter Jo Harten was near-identical with 46 from 52 for the Magic.

"That's Magic mana right there and I can't believe we've done this," Harten said.

"To come to Invercargill and take it is pretty cool because we've had an up-and-down season."

Struggling to field a full-strength team, the Magic lost five of their first six games.

They have lifted for the play-offs, thumping the Northern Mystics 63-47 in last week's elimination final.

They are the only team from either side of the Tasman to reach the knockout phase in all nine seasons of the ANZ Championship.

The Steel, who had won 11 and drawn two games in the regular season, looked lethargic off a bye the previous week.

Centre Shannon Francois is promising better away to the Firebirds or Swifts.

"We love going to Aussie. Obviously it's a harder route but we're going to take it as much as we can to them.

Francois reserved praise for 18-year-old Abby Erwood, who made an impact after being injected into the game on debut midway through the second quarter.

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