Local netball fans were treated to an exhibition of emerging talent when the Waikato/Bay of Plenty (WBOP) and Mainland Beko League teams went head to head in Rotorua.
The league serves as a development competition for the country's best young netballers and, in what was a home game for WBOP at the Rotorua Girls' High School Arena, the home side came out worthy 66-50 winners.
It was a case of redemption for WBOP as they were beaten 61-54 by Mainland in Ashburton the week before.
The game started at an electric pace and WBOP were able to make the most of their early chances, racing out to a 6-1 lead. They applied a lot of pressure in defence, forcing Mainland into errors and held a 20-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
A highlight of WBOP's play was the combination between wing attack Simmon Howe and goal shoot Kelsey McPhee. Howe's vision was superb, consistently finding her fellow attackers in space, while McPhee showed impressive range, sinking shots from all over the shooting circle.
WBOP put the foot down in the second quarter and led by 17 points at one stage, however Mainland finished the quarter strong, scoring five unanswered points to reduce the halftime deficit to 37-25.
The third quarter was the closest of the game with WBOP again starting strongly but Mainland clawing their way back into touching distance. With one quarter left to play WBOP led 50-41.
The home side showed their class in the final quarter as the Mainland comeback ran out of steam, cruising to a 66-50 victory.
WBOP coach Mary-Jane Araroa said she was "really pleased" with her team's performance.
"Particularly in the first half, I think we stuck to our structures and our game plan really well. In the second half we made a couple of changes, but so did they and I think they lifted their game a bit more. We're just taking too long to make adjustments," Araroa said.
When asked if there were any standout players, she said it was a team effort.
"Our defensive end definitely does a lot of work for us and the delivery into our shooters is quality, which allows them to put it away and it's calm. For me, there is strength throughout and it's just about maintaining those connections."
Araroa said the players enjoyed playing in different parts of the region and learning to deal with travel would help them make the step up to the next level.
"The travel is all part of the league. I don't think we travelled that well down to Christchurch, which was the first real far away game for us and it was a late night game as well. Those are all learnings and if these girls are going to go into the premiership it's about how you cope with that.
"We got a lot of lessons out of that last weekend, so we were quite determined to really redeem ourselves. Mainland are a classy team. I think the competition is really tight between each team. They are gritty and they're never going to give an inch. They don't care what the score is, it's about them getting possession and making the most of it.
"They were right in the game to the very end and that's something our girls have to learn as well, to play to the final whistle," she said.