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North Island battle to determine age-group champions

A new national Under-19 champion will be found this year after Auckland and Wellington reached the final of the New Zealand championships.

The two teams have achieved a finals spot at ASB Baypark Arena in Tauranga on the back of an unbeaten stretch over three days.

They now meet in Thursday’s New Zealand U19 Championship final at 2pm where Wellington will aim to repeat the win they had over Auckland in the final two years ago.

Auckland missed out on a top eight spot last year and will be out to make amends in its place in the 2018 final having dominated on the scoreboards since day one.

They had earlier dispatched Dunedin (40-25) and Christchurch (41-25) in the top eight pool play but were forced to dig deep against their netballing neighbours North Harbour to reach the last two.

Both teams were evenly matched in what was a strong defensive game, but Auckland pulled ahead in the fourth quarter to win 35-31 and make the age-group final.

Meanwhile, Wellington’s unbeaten run ensures the U19 crown will stay in the North Island this year after accounting for Waitakere (36-21) and defending champions Hamilton City (33-21) in post pool play.

Their finals spot was confirmed with a hard-fought win over Manawatu as their ability to rotate their full squad during the 40-minute match proved the difference after three hard days of netball.

Wellington last won the title in 2016 and finished third last season but has had a tough pool this year and will be hoping it has enough in the tank to topple Auckland.

The two teams look to be evenly matched defensively but Auckland may have the edge over Wellington with an experienced mid-court, while respective coaches Emma Haigh and Frances Solia have options on the bench in the shooting circle.

North Harbour and Manawatu are expected to have a tight tussle when they meet in the play-off for 3rd and 4th having reached the top five for the second straight year.

Last year’s winners, Hamilton City, take on Dunedin – who pipped Christchurch by just one goal to finish third in the pool – in the battle for a place in the top five, while Christchurch and Waitakere are the other two teams from the top eight to meet in the play-offs on the final day.