An old nemesis returns to pose a new threat to New Zealand's trans-Tasman netball franchises tonight as they strive to end Australian domination of the ANZ Championship.
Thanks to the wily Norma Plummer the only Australian side never to have won the title might no longer be the perennial non achiever, that less daunting than usual fixture on the schedule of the five New Zealand teams.
The Coast Fever has never finished better than seventh but veteran coach Plummer's arrival in Perth last September has heightened expectations.
Plummer ended her eight year tenure with the Australian national side after they pipped the Silver Ferns in Singapore in last July's world championship final, and is now looking forward to causing more angst in her first fulltime coaching role since she left the AIS Canberra Darters and succeeded Jill McIntosh.
The benefits of her professionalism and drive were apparent during the pre-season tournament in Tauranga last month where the Fever recorded two wins, a draw against the Firebirds and just one loss.
Those outcomes give Plummer confidence before the Fever open their schedule by hosting the Canterbury Tactix tonight.
She said the biggest challenge was adjusting the attitude of her younger players.
"They didn't really know what commitment was, that was pretty obvious.
"You can't have a player walk up to you and say: 'I can't make it Wednesday because it's Dad's birthday and I can't make Friday night because it's a hen's night'.
"I (told them) that's why they don't win. You'd never have an Australian player ever put that before a training session and they had to understand, that's it, never ask me again.
"Our culture has changed dramatically. We've just had our fitness testing and each one of them has done a personal best."
Current Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander visited the Fever headquarters last week, and it justified Plummer's decision to return to the daily coaching regime.
"She's been to our weight sessions and worked with a couple of players but you're not really the hands-on coach, you don't get them until the end," she said.
"I love being back on the floor every day. What I like to see is to see them mature once you start working with them."
Plummer said her goal was for the Fever to make the top four, a quantum leap.
"I think we'll be very competitive in the first half of the season and in the second half we'll be pretty dangerous. They're learning rapidly."
Susan Furhmann was the only player given some leeway during a demanding pre-season as she manages a chronic knee injury.
The Australian international will occasionally wrapped in cotton wool so Plummer signed England's Eboni Beckford-Chambers to bolster the defensive end as the Fever's overseas player.
While Beckford-Chambers is the marquee international recruit, Catherine Cox fits the bill domestically as the 35-year-old prolongs her career after being discarded by her beloved NSW Swifts.
Cox asked if a move west was feasible and Plummer agreed on the proviso she play in the GA bib because Caitlin Bassett is the designated goal shoot.
"Cath has hit every benchmark, she's probably fitter than she's ever been," Plummer said of her captain.
"Sometimes when you're 35 you could say 'not another training session' but she's really enjoying it."
- © Fairfax NZ News