Picked by some experts to be trans-Tasman netball league easy-beats, Southern Steel proved anything but as they upset Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic 49-47 at Stadium Southland in Invercargill on Monday.
Trailing 34-40 at the end of the third quarter, a few judicious positional changes proved pivotal for the Steel.
Young defender Storm Purvis made her debut at goalkeeper against Magic shooter Irene van Dyk and did a superb job, while former Tactix midcourter Phillipa Finch took over at centre and played a huge part in driving the Steel recovery.
An often impenetrable through-court defensive effort laid the base for the win, led by the quick hands and feet of Demelza McCloud and boosted by the gritty Sheryl Scanlan.
The supply of turnover ball in the pivotal final quarter was covered by the cool heads in the Steel shooting circle, the experience of former Silver Ferns Donna Wilkins and Jodi Brown, proving vital in the hectic closing minutes.
The Magic started solidly enough but were given an indication of what was ahead as the Steel's relatively inexperienced midcourt, headed by Courtney Tairi and Shannon Francois, stood strong.
Ahead 14-13 after 15 minutes, the Magic faltered badly in the second stanza, coughing up a steady supply of turnover ball and forcing coach Noeline Taurua into early changes as the trailed 16-22 midway through the spell.
Versatile Australian Khao Watts moved from wing defence to centre, Laura Langman moved to wing attack and Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick took over at wing defence.
The new combination clicked, the Magic's rhythm returning to their attacking third and they hauled back the Steel to level the scores 25-25 at halftime.
The Magic upped the tempo further in the third quarter, their ball speed and movement off the pass snappier, leaving the Steel half a pace behind.
A six-goal run into three-quarter time gave the Magic a six-goal lead at the break, and they looked to be cruising. But the Steel dug deep, forcing a series of crucial errors in the closing 10 minutes to secure an unlikely win.