Marist Magic have emerged as minor championship winners and favourites ahead of this weekend’s NZWPNL men’s finals.
New Zealand Water Polo life member Chris Hayward presents the NZWPNL minor championship trophy to Marist Magic veteran Phil Howat
Topping the table 12 points clear of the nearest team, the Magic have only lost one match and it was in a penalty shoot-out against North Harbour Cootes Construction during the Neutral Weekend in Rotorua. Although, they were challenged by the Blue Devils who pushed them to a penalty shoot-out the day before.
North Harbour Cootes Construction gun shooter Jonny Clark lines up a shot past Hutt Heat's Cameron Hayes at the National Aquatic Centre on Saturday
The rankings at the middle of the table came down to the final two matches of the regular season, with North Harbour Cootes Construction taking on visitors Hutt Heat in what would become a precursor to Saturday’s semi-final.
After trailing by as many as four goals, Hutt Heat staged a major comeback to score four in the last quarter (Sean Bryant 2, Hamish Booker, Conor Lui) whilst holding North Harbour scoreless.
On Sunday, Sea Wolf at times matched the pace of the Heat but lapses saw the visitors finish the regular season with a convincing 19-8 win to take second spot on the table, relegating North Harbour to third with the Blue Devils sitting at fourth. Sea Wolf, with a win and a penalties loss amassing its points for the season, dipped out of a semi-finals berth but did record a handful of close matches in the club’s first NZWPNL season.
In Saturday’s semi-finals, first up will be Marist Magic – defeated by only North Harbour in penalty shoot-out – taking on the Waitakere Blue Devils. Whilst recent encounters swayed the way of the Magic (11-7, 17-8), the Blue Devils were first to steal points from the Magic when they forced them to penalties back in May at the Diocesan Aquatic Centre. The Blue Devils are the more recent NZWPNL champions under Hungarian coach Attila Biro (2015) whilst Magic were champions in 2013 under current coach Reza Soleimani.
The second semi-final will see a re-match of the game a week before with Hutt Heat and North Harbour Cootes Construction. Of their three encounters this season, Hutt Heat has the advantage 2-1, although no game between them has been decided by more than a goal. Hutt Heat will aim for its first NZWPNL final since 2014, whilst North Harbour has a chance to go for back-to-back titles as they did in 2009-2010 and 2003-2004.
Four games. Four teams. Two days. One title. Catch all the action in the grand finale of the NZWPNL this weekend at the AUT Millennium National Aquatic Centre.
Saturday 1st July
SEMI-FINAL ONE: Marist Magic v Waitakere Blue Devils - 4:00pm
SEMI-FINAL TWO: Hutt Heat v North Harbour Cootes Construction - 5:30pm
Sunday 2nd July
BRONZE: LSF1 v LSF2 - 12:00pm
GOLD: WSF1 v WSF2 - 1:45pm
All four matches will be streamed on Facebook Live - New Zealand Water Polo.