date_range Published 20 Aug 2019

It is often the way in rivalries.

They are hard-fought, highly anticipated match-ups.

One side is usually that little bit better, but the other is always pushing to cause an upset.

The South Pac Magic caused that upset in the 2016 women’s club final.

A 71-46 thrashing snapped Ajax’s hold on the title.

But in the six finals the two have played this decade, Ajax has come out on top in the rest.

That includes the past two years, as well as three consecutive in 2011-2013.

Nicole Ruske

Ajax also came out on top in the other three - a derby against another Ajax team in 2010 and back-to-back wins over Varsity in 2014 and 2015.

The Magic will enter as a slight favourite to pull a second one back tonight.

It boasts an eight-match winning streak and has not lost since May 14.

The most recent of those wins was a 49-42 victory over Ajax to secure its spot in the final two weeks ago.

In that contest, Ajax held a double-digit lead before Magic duo Soraya Umaga-Jensen and Georgia Te Au stepped up to haul in the deficit.

Ajax forward Natalie Smith. Photo: Linda Robertson

That means little tonight though.

It is not a dissimilar lead-in to last year when Magic was unbeaten before being dismantled 65-40 by a clinical performance from Ajax in the final.

That will no doubt be in the back of its mind.

It has played quality basketball this year and works well as a team.

The ball moves, it takes good shots and it has depth in its roster.

Te Au is key in facilitating that ball movement, while Umaga-Jensen and two-time league MVP Dayna Turnbull provide quality scoring threats.

They form the crux of a tough back court.

However, they will have to be good to shut down Ajax’s guard duo.

Tall Fern Nicole Ruske and former Junior Tall Fern Olivia O’Neill offer a classy pairing.

Both are athletic ball handlers who are dangerous attacking off the dribble, while Ruske is equally threatening from deep.

The absence of Ruske’s older sister, Aleisha, is a loss.

However, that duo is more than capable of leading Ajax to a title.

Inside, Ajax has an exceptional rebounder in Otago Gold Rush captain Natalie Smith, who also offers an inside scoring threat.

The Magic has its own strong inside presence in Letitia Mullaly, who has impressed in her first year in Dunedin.

Tip-off is at 7pm.