With round one of the ANZ Championship looming, Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel captain Jodi Brown has declared her team ready to launch its 2013 campaign.
"Everyone is pretty excited and nervous at the same time. We've worked so long and so hard for this and it's finally here," she said.
"After that first whistle blows the nerves will settle down and we'll be able to get into our business."
Steel's opening round clash with the Queensland Firebirds in Brisbane on March 24 presents a chance to end the team's run of not winning on Australian soil - something it has not achieved in the competition proper since its inception in 2008.
"You go into every game wanting to win but this year we've really drilled into our team that it's about processes. If we can get the pass from A to B to C and score a goal, the outcome will take care of itself," Brown said.
"We will take a lot of heart from our pre-season and I think we have done really well but obviously the competition is a different story. It's going to be really hard for us but we just have to keep grinding away.
"We haven't got all those experienced heads this year but we have got some talented young players . . . I think we will be the surprise package."
The Steel impressed in its final pre-season hit-out against the NZNPA Legends in Dunedin yesterday, notching up a 71-42 victory.
"It was a great game for us," Brown said. "In the pre-season this year we've had the Australian teams and a couple of New Zealand teams so this was an opportunity to still play that Kiwi-style and test our starting combinations without exposing any secrets to everyone.
"It was exactly what we needed. The score might not have reflected it but it was great preparation in terms of our own processes heading into the first round."
A New Zealand Netball Players' Association innovation, the Legends team boasted former Silver Ferns Adine Wilson, Tania Dalton, Jenny-May Coffin, Anna Galvan, Belinda Charteris, Belinda Colling and Angela Mitchell joined by Stephanie Bond, Jenny Ferguson and Erika Burgess.
Each player has strong links to the Netball South region having previously represented the Steel or its championship-winning predecessors, the Southern Sting or Otago Rebels - reflected in the crowd of more than 800 which turned up to witness the action.
The quarter scores were of a respectable margin with the exception of the second spell when the Steel unleashed a 23-7 rampage.
Ahead 19-14 after the first quarter, the seemingly unstoppable attacking prowess of Brown and goal shoot Jhaniele Fowler proved a major factor in the Steel racking up 11 unanswered goals to stretch its advantage to an unassailable 43-21 by halftime.
In an attempt to combat the 1.98-metre Fowler, the Legends injected two goal keeps into the game in the final stanza but even the added attention of formidable defenders Anna Galvan, Erika Burgess and Belinda Charteris all under the post failed to have an impact. The Jamaican international finished the game with stats of 92 per cent, slotting 43 of her 47 attempts.
While many perceive Steel's defensive unit as their greatest challenge this season, combinations tested by coach Janine Southby showed strong promise against the Legends, while the tenacity of experienced campaigners Wendy Frew and Phillipa Finch provided valuable balance to the flair of Courtney Tairi and Shannon Francois in a midcourt bursting with potential.
Former Silver Ferns captain Wilson echoed Brown's prediction the Steel would prove a surprise package in this year's competition. "Especially down their attack end, I think they are looking sharp. There is still room to grow in the defence end but they've definitely got a good base there so I think they will surprise a few teams.
"It's fantastic for the Steel to have such a brilliant post in Jhaniele at the end and I think Jodi is just feeding so well . . . I think it bodes well for the Steel this season. Jodi has always been a playmaker so it's nice she can show all her skills now she has got someone in there with height to snatch those feeds."
Wilson enjoyed taking to the court in the south once again.
"It was fun and good just to get back out there and have a run around," Wilson said.
"Hopefully the Steel felt like they got something out of it and we pushed them at times. I think our team would like to forget the second quarter but that's OK."
Steel players Kate Shearer, Gina Crampton and Stacey Peeters joined the Legends for the match.
"They really enjoyed the experience and that's half the point of being down here - the opportunity to still be involved in netball and give back a little, as cheesy as that sounds. Hopefully it was a success in that respect," Wilson said.
Quarter scores (Steel first):
19-14, 43-21, 57-31.
Jhaniele Fowler 43/47 (92 per cent);
Jodi Brown 17/22 (77 per cent);
Te Paea Selby-Rickit 11/16 (69 per cent).
Tania Dalton 24/33 (73 per cent);
Angela Mitchell 8/14 (57 per cent);
Belinda Colling 10/14 (71 per cent).
- The Southland Times