Defending champions the FAST5 Ferns have upheld their unbeaten record in the five-a-side version of the game, beating Australia 30-21 in the showdown of day one at the FAST5 Netball World Series in Auckland.
An outstanding defensive performance by the Ferns - who have never lost a game in three years of this tournament - ensured three wins from three today, including two of the biggest scalps in world netball.
One of the key defence players for the home side, Katrina Grant, put down her team's success against the Flyers, in part, to a relaxed, fun preparation.
"We had a great warm up because it was the last game of the day - having a bit of a laugh with each other. The Flyers warmed up beside us and I think we may have intimidated them a bit!"
But she also gave credit to the Ferns' determination on court. "Our full-court defensive pressure has been outstanding, which helps us do our job much easier at the back," she said.
Going into the final match of the day, Australia and New Zealand were the only two unbeaten nations in the tournament. With the 6000-strong crowd stirred up for the much-awaited clash of the day, the FAST5 Ferns did not disappoint them by scoring the first two goals.
Over-ambitious passing by both sides kept the game on level-pegging, but the Ferns claimed the lead going into the first quarter, albeit only by one, 7-6.
The Flyers worked the ball through court with grace, with some beautifully timed passes by Kate Beveridge falling into the sure hands of shooting partner Karyn Bailey. But their shots on goal were often thwarted by the rangy arms of young Ferns defenders Temalisi Fakahokotau and Kayla Cullen.
The heavily defensive nature of the game was obvious in the very low halftime score, with the powerhouses tied 11-11.
Choosing to put their powerplay into action in the third quarter, the Ferns got off to a strong start.
The Flyers adopted their full-on defensive tactics, which included playing midcourter Ash Brazill at goal attack. In the face of fierce pressure, the Ferns banked on the two-point money shots from the hands of Bailey Mes to build up a 23-13 lead.
As the Flyers entered their powerplay phase, it was the turn of the Ferns to tighten the screws on the Australian attack. Leading by 14 with a minute left on the clock, the Ferns may have seemed to be in an unassailable position, but a six pointer by Karen Bailey gave the Flyers some hope of saving the match.
The Ferns, however, weren't prepared to let that happen and held the ball down the other end of the court.
Australian co-captain Clare McMeniman still took positives out of the Flyers' performance.
“I think we had a lot of scoring opportunities in that fourth quarter which is a positive thing.
We probably just need to be a bit smarter with our shot selection, but all in all I thought it was a really good contest and a great battle against New Zealand which we always seem to have these epic encounters with them.”
Both sides hold out hope of making tomorrow night's final. But Grant knows that even with three from three, nothing is guaranteed.
"Tomorrow is another tough day, and I don't think we can afford to drop a game, with no semifinals this year. We just need a good sleep, and good recovery," said Grant, who had almost lost her voice.
Said McMeniman: “I think we’ve got two tricky matches tomorrow against England and Malawi so we’ll go back and do some preparation in terms of that but FAST5 is such a varied game and anyone can win if their shooters are on so hopefully we’re on tomorrow!”