At 33, Amanda Palmer has been around the premier netball block a few times in Hawke's Bay.
But that still doesn't stop Palmer doing a double take when informed that Outkast Sports Optimise Physio are sitting on top of Otane Thirsty Whale, albeit after just two rounds of the Super 8 competition.
"Are we on the top of the table? How can we be? I thought Otane were unbeaten?" asked the Havelock North mother of three before the 7.45pm start to the game against the Jewels Falcon-coached Otane in the round-three match between the two unbeaten sides.
That is not to say captain Palmer and the Cheleme Ah Kiong-coached troops are feeling intimidated but it's quite understandable for oppositions to demand full attention from Otane on account of their 11th crown and status as defending champions.
But the belief for Outkast, if not others, stems from the new look about Otane and their loss to Napier Girls' High School Senior A in the four-round crossover stage of the competition for the shield last month.
The word is it will be the first time, for a very long time, that the perennial favourites will take the Pettigrew-Green Arena court without a Kupa in the mix.
Tammy Kupa is manager, sister Anne Marie has been at the helm of NGHS for the past few years because daughter Parris Petera plays for the school, and sister Becky is expecting a baby again.
"They have the beauty of Tammy and Poss [Becky], which will heavily influence the way their attackers bring it through," said Palmer. "Even if they are not physically on court they give so much encouragement and movement to the girls who are playing. They have a certain style of play - it's beautiful, beautiful netball - which they pass on to the young who pick them up."
Falcon, whose mother Eliza was coach and sister Raewyn a player when they formed the formidable Physique 2000 dynasty, said it was just another game in their journey to be successful although she wasn't ignoring Outkast's form.
"We see it as a challenge. We see every game, every week like that to make sure our journey is successful."
The Westpac Hastings branch manager, who is in her 27th year with the bank, said she had missed the early shield stage of Super 8 because of her "mahi [work]".
"I've been very fortunate that Tammy has been taking the team on Friday nights," she said but acknowledged the shield loss was timely because one often learned more from defeats than wins. It was good time to look at ourselves as to where we were, not just as a team but as individuals, and what work needed to be done if were going to continue to reach our goal."
Falcon said everyone was reflecting on the Otane of the past but this year was all about Otane of the future.
"We are only carrying two players from the previous season so we've got a hell of a lot players who are still learning a lot about each other, on and off the court, so that takes time."
A chuckling Falcon was mindful the Otane of old was still talked about in the mould of Physique 2000 but agreed it was a good brand to build any platform on.
"That adds pressure to keep the brand and mana intact ... so, first and foremost, you have to deliver that expectation."
Falcon said the new blood had a lot of respect every time they slipped on the Otane tribal colours.
It was a tough outing for Becky Kupa last Friday so they would assess her status today.
"I suppose it'll be a milestone for the team to go out with no Kupas on the floor."
However, she said the smarts of the Kupas was always present.
"You know what? I think they prefer to be outplayed than to be sitting on the sidelines," Falcon said with a laugh.
Palmer said Outkast's goal was to make the semifinals and this round would be no different in eking out results to jostle with who they were likely to face first if they made it.
"You kind of want to be in an easier semis, ideally, because last year we missed out and this year we want to get there."
Palmer, who helps husband Seth Palmer run their building business, agreed with NGHS' victory it was imperative for Outkast to make every game purposeful because they were mindful of the strength of every team and not just the front runners.
"The competition's very even, which is very nice, because all the teams are competing at an equal level."
She said it was almost Hobson's choice to wonder who would be better to face - Otane or NGHS - in the playoffs because the Kupa influence ran through both teams.
"One advantage is that Napier Girls are young and have been playing a lot longer together than most of the clubs," she said, mindful they had gleaned intense game time from the national secondary schoolgirls' tourneys.
Add to their youthful exuberance and fitness and NGHS start to look daunting.
"Otane hold the title and have held it for so many years. They still have the strength of the coaches and players they put out on the court with a few older heads to play a very smart game as well."
Palmer said with a gaggle of new girls in the team they were working on combinations leading up to the shield phase.
Now Outkast were entering Super 8 aware it was crunch time.
"We want to really push now and we really want to win."
She had noted a sense of hunger and "a cool bunch" eager to run on to the court, having nothing left in the tank at the final whistle.
This year Outkast have the benefit of bringing on fresh legs, something they didn't have last year.
They have depth in different bibs - wing attack and notably centre where if there's a lull things can become sluggish.
Palmer said the other significant change for the 2016 champions was having Ah Kiong as a more hands-on coach where Jeda Bartlett assumed the mantle because the former could only make a few trainings.
"She's been purposeful in training and she's been there every day. We've kind of found a little bit more direction with her ... so it's nice to have a coach," she said of Ah Kiong, who brought a sideline perspective rather than someone trying to analyse patterns while on the court to make critical calls to change players quarter by quarter.
Tonight, she said, would be a big one because it would be a test of their confidence and desire.
"I also think Otane won't be taking this game lightly. I will be expecting them to bring a strong team because it is crunch time now."
The trick was for Outkast to play full 15-minute quarters. "We can't afford a lazy, slow start. We just can't be playing catch up with Otane so it'll have to be 60 minutes of hard work."
■ PG1, 6.15pm: NGHS Senior A v HHSOG Proactive Huias.
Officials: Jenny Varcoe, Tony Gardiner. Reserve: Kelly Ives.
■ PG2, 6.15pm: HGHS Senior A v All In Tremains Elusive.
Officials: Sophie Martin, Georgia Trent. Reserve: Pieta Parvin.
■ PG1, 7.45pm: All In Tremains Evasive v Central Sports Vet Services.
Officials: Pieta Parvin, Helga Lewis. Reserve: Georgia Trent.
■ PG2, 7.45pm: Otane Thirsty Whale v Outkast Sports Optimise Physio.
Officials: Kelly Ives, Stacey Hopwood. Reserve: Tony Gardiner.
Standings after rd 2: 1 Outkast 8pts, 2 Otane 8, 3 NGHS 4, 4 All In Elusive 4, 5 All In Evasive 4, 6 HGHS 4, 7 Central 1, 8 Huias 0.