Waikato Bay of Plenty must win three playoff games against Australian opposition to claim the trans-Tasman crown afterr a 59-55 loss to the Firebirds.
The red-hot Queensland Firebirds earned themselves an extra life in the trans-Tasman netball league playoffs with a determined 59-55 over Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic in Hamilton.
The Firebirds made it six wins on the trot to finish second and book a slot in the major semi-final away to the top-qualifying Melbourne Vixens.
The Magic would have enjoyed the same outcome if successful in a hard-fought match on Monday but they instead finish the regular season fourth and will face the third-ranked NSW Swifts in Sydney.
Trailing 46-44 early in the final quarter, the Firebirds powered home to be the only victorious playoff-bound team in the final round of matches.
The Vixens lost to the Southern Steel on Saturday but their goal differential is superior to the Firebirds and Swifts, with all three Australian sides finishing on nine wins and four losses.
A loss to the Mystics on Sunday scuppered the Swifts hopes of qualifying top.
New Zealand’s lone qualifier, the Magic finish on eight wins. They maintain their record as the only side to reach the playoffs in all seven seasons of the ANZ Championship.
The hosts trailed for much of the opening three quarters, finding themselves two goals down at every break.
Five straight goals early in the final stanza brought a large crowd to life but the Magic couldn’t sustain it against opponents who came second in most statistical categories but shot more accurately.
Prolific Firebirds goal shoot Romelda Aiken (40/46) was marked tightly by Silver Ferns defensive pair Casey Kopua and Leana du Bruin but goal attack Amorette Wild (19/20) played a key support role.
Magic shooters Jo Harten (29/35) and Ellen Halpenny (26/34) had their hands full against an aggressive Queensland defence led by captain Laura Geitz.
High stakes lifted the Firebirds to another level, Geitz said.
“We both knew we were fighting for that second position and there was a lot on the line,” she said.
“Our composure got us over the line in the end.”
Magic counterpart Kopua lamented silly mistakes when the squeeze went on over the closing stages but she says her team has it in them to win three successive games to claim a second title.
“We’re used to going down that harder playoff road so we’re looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s the small things we need to change, it’s nothing massive.”