After a week of shadow-boxing, Australia has passed their first genuine test of the Netball World Cup with a nailbiting 50-49 victory over old enemies New Zealand on Thursday night.
A full-strength Diamonds outfit made a hot start and then successfully fended off a brave late rally from the Silver Ferns, their win ensuring a top-placed finish in Group F as the business end of the tournament begins.
This wasn't a final, but it felt like one. Most trans-Tasman netball matches go down to the wire and this was no exception, with the result up for grabs until the final seconds.
Maria Folau had the chance to secure a draw for New Zealand right at the death but missed her shot as Courtney Bruce towered over her, much to the delight of the Australian fans among a raucous crowd at the Liverpool Arena.
"I'm really pleased that we toughed it out," Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander. "We had some silly pieces of play but we adjusted to that and I'm very, very happy we hung on.
"We've set ourselves up really well for the finals, so we've just got to get out there and reproduce and go a little bit harder in that last quarter."
Australia will now face the loser of South Africa or England, who were due to play early on Friday morning (AEST) to decide who finishes first in Group G, in the semis.
Alexander chopped and changed her side through their five breezy lead-up games against minnow nations but finally showed her hand against the Silver Ferns. Her starting seven was spearheaded by Caitlin Bassett, Steph Wood and Kelsey Browne, which Alexander confidently described as a "winning combination" pre-game. Barring one swap at wing defence, she stuck with the same team for the whole match.
Bassett, Wood and Browne played together under New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua at the Sunshine Coast Lightning, making their selection a statement of sorts from Alexander – knowing everything about the players you're up against is one thing, but actually stopping them is an entirely different task.
The Diamonds backed it up with an ultra-aggressive start, attacking quickly and directly from the outset and defending with the same manic intensity.
It wasn't always perfect, but when their surges broke through New Zealand's zone it was brutally effective and helped them carve out a 13-10 lead at the first change, having erased a two-goal buffer briefly held by the Silver Ferns.
Australia's momentum carried into the second quarter as Bruce led the charge from the back, repeatedly disrupting Kiwi attacks to provide her teammates with opportunities to blitz away on the counter. At one stage they jumped to seven points in front, but the Ferns whittled it back to 28-22 at half-time.