Australian franchises dominated the pre-ANZ Championship Summer Challenge in Melbourne at the weekend although the Southern Steel and Canterbury Tactix were both encouraged by their performances.
The Steel recorded a historic first-ever win on an Australian court at the State Netball and Hockey Centre yesterday when Jamaican goal shoot Jhaniele Fowler had the final say in a 36-35 victory over the NSW Swifts.
Fowler, who is developing a promising goal circle partnership with captain Jodi Brown, broke the deadlock with less than 30 seconds to play - the perfect fillip for a franchise that has not experienced success across the Tasman since the championship started in 2008.
No points were at stake but the Steel may well have made one a month out from the 2013 championship getting underway.
"What I hope they take out of it is some self-belief that they can and will compete," said coach Janine Southby.
"We've got to get over this mindset that it's different over here because it's not ... we seem to have this mental block so from that perspective it was good to get that win. And the fact we toughed it out and held our nerve even when they kept coming back at us."
The Steel went close to going back-to-back on the final day of the competition but were pipped by Norma Plummer's West Coast Fever 41-40.
Although disappointed not to return to Invercargill with two Australian scalps, Southby was satisfied.
"We are exactly where we need to be and the big thing now is to up the ante. The next four weeks are crucial for us," she said.
"The biggest thing I saw out there was the heart that they showed and a real desire to succeed. I think last year it was there in patches but it waned," she said.
Southby was impressed with Fowler's progress and her growing combination with Brown and the Steel's midcourt.
"Jodi had some good links with both Jhaniele and TP (Te Paea Selby-Ricket) and that's progressed further.
In the midcourt that understanding is really starting to come between the players there."
The Steel also lost to the Queensland Firebirds, Melbourne Vixens and Adelaide Thunderbirds but were too strong for the Northern Mystics.
Perennial strugglers Canterbury also beat the Aucklanders but had no joy against Australian opposition, although captain Anna Thompson was upbeat about the efforts of a squad missing key players Julianna
Naoupu and Bessie Manu.
''They're both big players for us and having them back gives us a few more options, but this was good to give more players opportunities and I think we did well," Thompson said.
Meanwhile, the tournament was a worrying experience for the Mystics. Their closest losing margin was 13 goals - against a Vixens side they meet again in round one.
The Vixens, who welcomed back the legendary Sharelle McMahon from maternity leave, were undefeated in their four matches although they did not play the other undefeated side, Queensland.
Round 1: Melbourne Vixens 39 Canterbury Tactix 25; Adelaide Thunderbirds 35 NSW Swifts 28
Round 2: West Coast Fever 45 Northern Mystics 24; Queensland Firebirds 30 v Southern Steel 28
Round 3: Melbourne Vixens 35 Adelaide Thunderbirds 27; NSW Swifts 45 v Canterbury Tactix 34
Round 4: Southern Steel 36 NSW Swifts 35; Canterbury Tactix 40 Northern Mystics 25
Round 5: Melbourne Vixens 41 West Coast Fever 33
Round 6: Queensland Firebirds 30 NSW Swifts 29; Adelaide Thunderbirds 41 Canterbury Tactix 37
Round 7: Melbourne Vixens 41 Northern Mystics 28; West Coast Fever 41 Southern Steel 40
Round 8: Queensland Firebirds 38 Adelaide Thunderbirds 30
- © Fairfax NZ News