Slowly but surely the spectre of an old force seems to be casting an ominous shadow on the Hawke's Bay Netball premier competition in Napier.
Otane Thirsty Whale have been lurking on the second rung of the Holden Karamu Super 8 ladder and are undefeated like leaders All In Tremains Elusive on 20 points, albeit trailing by two points on account of a stalemate.
Should All In be looking over their shoulders a little now and will third and fourth-placed Outkast Optimise Physio and Hastings High School Old Girls Proactive Huia, respectively, locked on 12 points each, break their stride to bridge that gulf?
For that matter, defending champions Napier Girls' High School Senior A — who play their deferred match from last Friday night against Toki Mana at Sacred Heart College gym on Wednesday — should also be in the running to spoil a few parties.
Otane player/coach Tammy Kupa agreed the perennial powerhouses were beginning to find a modicum of cohesiveness and continuity again after starting the season with rough-diamond qualities.
"We've got [four] people from our second team who have played in our Central Hawke's Bay comp and who have come up," said Kupa, after Otane beat Kauri 45-37 in round five of the championship format at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Napier, on Friday.
The only seasoned campaigners from last winter are defender Briar Chalmers and Kupa so they had used the shield format, a preamble to the championship, to familiarise their newcomers to the gulf from a CHB platform to an elite Friday night one.
"We've kind of said we're down to the business end now so they need to stay focused and take away what we've learned from the first round [shield] and training into this [championship] round," she said.
No doubt Otane haven't ticked the winning box against Outkast this Friday because it's difficult to assess the mind set of teams on any given games, never mind the much-anticipated clash against All In in a fortnight.
"We could go into a game and be seven up going into the last quarter and, all of a sudden, we lose the plot and can't maintain it, really," said Kupa. "I think the biggest learning curve for our team is, one, they don't know how to win so we're trying to get that winning streak and, two, it's just keeping the consistency for us and not to panic."
She said they had kept an eye on Outkast, who had succumbed 47-36 to All In on the adjacent court, last Friday night.
"Outkast were actually up with them for three quarters and All In only really took it in the last quarter so the score didn't reflect how the game was going."
While only Melissa Te Huki was ranked sixth among the Super Shooters, she felt they had the defensive formula in Chalmers and Valentine Kahukura to keep All In shooter Pania Rowe in check.
Te Huki carried the shooting load (81 per cent) against Kauri with Sarona Fruean (89), Chris Leppien (100) and Kupa (58) slipping on the bibs to tick things over.
Kauri GS Tania Laking, second on the Super Shooters race, had a 72 per cent success rate.
Otane won the first quarter 13-11, lost the second 6-8, claimed the third 13-10 and closed out with 13-8.
Huia beat Central Sports Vet Services 55-41, setting the tone 16-11 in the first spell, 17-9 in the second, giving away the third 11-12 before wrapping it up 11-9.
No 3 Super Shooter Judy Brown swapped bibs for a 90 per cent success rate for Huia while Hannah O'Keefe backed up with 79 per cent for a collective 83 per cent returns.
Huia coach Rebecca Martin, whose side face All In this Friday, felt Otane were working well as a unit.
Martin said Huia had had disruptions over the school holidays so they weren't able to hold a full team training.
"With players away on work and [other] commitments, I guess, it's understandable," Martin said.
Central, akin to Toki Mana, have yet to eke out a point in the championship round.
In the other match on Friday, All In had trailed in the first two spells — 11-12, 10-11 — before finding an edge in the third quarter, 10-6, before a don't-argue 16-7 closure against Outkast.
GS Rowe was outstanding in dropping 31 from 34 attempts (91 per cent) with Kathleen Tuaputa-Nahora and Rhandell Sharrock sharing the GA bib for 70 and 60 per cent deposits, respectively, for the victors.
GS Ema Harris-Rowlands CRT shot 74 per cent and Shevanna Sullivan backed up at 52 per cent for team percentage of 64, below All In's 80.
SUPER 8 DETAILS
■ Results: All In bt Outkast 47-36, HGHSOG Huia bt Central Sports 55-41, Otane bt Kauri 45-37.
■ Standings after rd 5: All In 20pts, Otane 18, Outkast 12, Huia 12, NGHS* 10, Kauri 4, Central 0, Toki Mana* 0.
*NGHS Snr A v Toki Mana in rd 5 to be played at Sacred Heart College from 6.30pm on Wednesday.
■ Super shooters: 1. Pania Rowe (All In) 449 goals, 12 games (87%); 2. Tania Laking (Kauri) 366, 12 (74%); 3. Judy Brown (Huia) 365, 12 (85%), 4. Rakei Sa'ena (Outkast) 304, 10 (89%); 5. Janayah Lewis (NGHS) 279, 10 (83%); 6. Melissa Te Huki (Otane) 273, 10 (83%).
For rd 6 matches at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, this Friday:
■ 6pm: All In v HGHSOG Huia PG2.
■ 6pm: Outkast v Otane PG1.
■ 7.30pm: Central v Toki Mana PG1.
■ 7.30pm: Kauri v NGHS PG2.