More than a hint of self-doubt is echoing from the nervy Silver Ferns camp.
You wouldn't quite label it defeatist - not when Australia is involved - but to suggest the Ferns are downplaying their chances in the first Constellation Cup test in Melbourne today is an understatement of grand proportions.
That shouldn't be the case. Little separates these heated rivals. The advent of the trans-Tasman competition has only enhanced the closeness of recent battles. In the past five years, the Ferns have won 10 of 24 clashes against the Diamonds, with 18 of those games decided by fewer than five goals.
Yet coach Waimarama Taumaunu and her senior players are asking New Zealand's unforgiving netball public to be realistic about their prospects. The message is: don't expect too much, too soon.
“It definitely won't be the best netball you've ever seen,” captain Casey Williams predicted.
“We know Australia are going to be a huge challenge. We'll probably be more focusing on the processes and not the outcome.”
The Ferns are, effectively, requesting some initial leeway, particularly around their rookie midcourt that, outside of experienced centre Laura Langman, boasts eight tests between Camilla Lees, Kayla Cullen and Bailey Mes, although don't be surprised to see Anna Harrison pop up at wing defence.
While the midcourt is a concern, the defence and shooting ends ooze class, and have impressive depth. Yet the Ferns appear downbeat.
“I suspect the netball public will perhaps be understanding but I don't expect them or us to be understanding of a poor performance,” Taumaunu reckoned.
“A great Australian performance and one by us that's as good as we can be on the day, that would be understood.”
Those sentiments do not inspire.
Sounds like Taumaunu's troops are prepared for a loss. That sort of underwhelming outlook would not be accepted from any other Kiwi sporting outfit: what happened to punching above our weight?
The overly cautious approach could be an attempt to protect newer members of the squad from the intense pressures of this arena.
“We have nothing to lose,” shooter Cathrine Latu claimed.
“They're not going to expect us to win and we've got a very new team. I think just getting as many people on the court as possible so everyone gets to feel what it's like to play against Australia would be the best thing for our team in the long run.”
That big picture philosophy is flawed. Sure, sections of this squad are rebuilding but the Ferns are expected to win every time they take the court. That reality will never alter - nor should it.
Against the traditional trans-Tasman foe, the Ferns haven't won a test series for eight years. If they want to break that drought - and secure the Constellation Cup for the first time - victory today would set them up for the next two matches in Auckland and Christchurch. They should be targeting today, not merely turning up.
Instead, while mediocrity won't be accepted, it seems defeat is somewhat expected.
“It's a three-match series,” Taumaunu said. “We're going out to do as well as we can in the first test. Every time we take the court we aim to win. Having said that, this is our benchmark.
"We've been training hard for two weeks and we're not really sure where we are at.”
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