The year was 1983. The venue was Singapore. It was the netball world championships but not as we know it now. The last time the Silver Ferns played for the world title in the Asian state, their captain was haunted by a marauding python. Two other players were dive-bombed by bats, while another Fern suffered from an almost constant nosebleed in the tropical heat.

The tournament was played outdoors, under the burning sun, on unforgiving concrete courts with no substitutions allowed. The Ferns had no hot water at their accommodation and had to contend with midget' umpires, deadly lightning strikes and some over-zealous security. Oh, and a heartbreaking loss in the final.

"Looking back, it was a hell of a tournament," says coach Lois Muir, "but in those days you just accepted things and got on with it. They were a tough bunch of players."

The Ferns were the favourites for the sixth world championships, having won five of their last six clashes with Australia. They had also just come off an unbeaten five-match tour of the UK, where they had beaten England by an average margin of 22 goals. A $26,000 grant from the New Zealand Sports Foundation allowed the team to hold a three-week training camp in Singapore, an invaluable opportunity to acclimatise.

They were put up in New Zealand military accommodation at an air base and Muir dictated that the air conditioning was not to be turned on in their living quarters. "I was a bit mean," recalls Muir, "but you had to live in the environment as well as play in it."

The temperatures were oppressive; the Ferns would start practice at 6am but even then, it was close to 30 degrees. Rita Fatialofa struggled to adjust to combination of heat and humidity, and her nose bled heavily.

After enduring it for several days, she was eventually sent to hospital for a minor operation. One afternoon during training, the rain started, followed by rumbling thunder. "We continued practising, a bit of rain didn't worry us," says then vice-captain Yvonne Willering. "But the sound got louder and louder; eventually some locals came over to tell us that a number of people had been struck by lightning in the last few years on the adjoining golf course. We rushed inside."

Captain Lyn Gunson, playing at her third world tournament, suffered a night-mare build-up. A few days before their opening game, they were hosted by the New Zealand Army battalion posted in Singapore. The team posed for a group photo after dinner, with the soldiers standing on tables and chairs behind them. A chair collapsed, smashing into Gunson's Achilles tendon and sending her to hospital. Muir, Willering and another player visited her the next day, where they were scolded by medical staff for choosing to walk to the hospital, down a busy causeway that was reputedly the most dangerous road on the island.

On the journey they were dive-bombed by a huge colony of bats, quite an experience for the Kiwis. That afternoon Gunson was told that a large python had been found (and captured) in the hospital kitchen. Around 1am, she awoke, hearing a shuffling noise in her room. Slightly alarmed, she noticed a nurse crawling around on the floor. "Apparently they had lost' the python," remembers Gunson, "and they were looking for it. I didn't hear if it was found but I didn't really get back to sleep that night."

Gunson spent 48 hours in the ward and had to ice the injury every hour for several days. As the tournament got under way, the teams moved into their accommodation at Singapore University. The Ferns discovered they had no hot water, a problem that went unresolved for the duration of the tournament.

The ferns of this era were a hardy bunch - on the 1982 tour to England, Gunson estimates they had played on 12 different court surfaces including concrete, grass, astroturf and springwood - and were adaptable.

They hammered Singapore 85-4 in their first world championship game, then squeezed past Jamaica 45-42, before beating Canada 76-12.

Northern Ireland were the next opponents, and their first encounter with some seriously tiny umpires. "Neutral umpires were fairly new, and in a lot of the developing netball nations, many went into umpiring because they weren't tall enough to play," says Muir. "Some of the fans called them midgets, though that was a bit unkind." "The toss-ups were difficult for a while," recalls Willering. "They were meant to be between the waist and shoulders of the tallest player but we had some six footers. The umpires were on their tiptoes but still the ball was closer to our kneecaps."

They took care of Sri Lanka 76-19 and England 51-36 - the England match notable for the large Kiwi contingent of supporters bursting into song with the national anthem, after the public address system broke down. Armed police surrounded the court and the teams, quite a departure from the casual atmosphere enjoyed back home and on most tours.

The heat took its toll; Willering remembers "buckets" of drink on the sideline rather than bottles. Gunson says it felt like steam was coming off the court. The Ferns beat Trinidad and Tobago 35-30 in the quarter-finals, and England were dismissed in the semifinals 55-34. For the final, Muir picked her strongest seven, and it reads like a who's who of New Zealand netball - Lynn Proudlove, Willering, Wai Taumanu, Fatialofa, Gunson, Margaret Forsyth and Rhonda Meads.

Australia led 11-10 after the first quarter; 22-17 at halftime. It was a fierce battle but New Zealand failed to convert a large supply of possession into points and eventually went down 47-42. "We had the opportunity of winning so we were pretty devastated, says Willering. "It felt like one that got away." "I think we let Australia get inside our heads a bit," says Muir, "and they played the umpires better than us. We had a fantastic team and but we succumbed a little bit - we had the material to win that game. It took me a month to get over losing - I had to throttle a few weeds in the garden."

Six of the team would get revenge four years later, making up the core of the side that triumphed in Edinburgh. Even more significantly, the class of 1983 contained three future Ferns coaches (Gunson, Leigh Gibbs, Willering) as well as current assistant Taumanu and national development manager Tracey Fear.

Duo aim to complete double

As if they haven't achieved enough already in their careers, Temepara George and Irene van Dyk stand on the verge of something unique over the next week. If the Silver Ferns take out the final next Sunday, George and van Dyk will have two world titles in their resume, following the 2003 triumph in Jamaica.

It is difficult to find a comparable achievement in other New Zealand team sports. All Black great Sean Fitzpatrick was the width of a goalpost away from taking a second World Cup in 1995. Richard Loe was the other survivor of the 1987 World Cup winning team, though he was on the bench in 1995 and did not take the field eight years earlier.

Indeed, it might be painful to know that a handful of Aussies are the only players to win two rugby World Cups. Kiwis like Benji Marshall and Simon Mannering will hope to achieve their own quinella when the next rugby league World Cup rolls around in 2013. There have been multiple world champions in sports like rowing, but those events are held every year.

The pinnacle of that sport is the Olympics - and only the Evers-Swindell twins and men like Simon Dickie and Dick Joyce have claimed gold at two Olympiads. Alongside those feats you can add Peter Snell, Mark Todd, and Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald.

In netball, Leigh Gibbs, Margaret Forsyth and Margharet Matenga were part of the triumphant 1987 world champion team and the trio also played at the 1979 world championships in Trinidad and Tobago. New Zealand were declared joint winners of this event (along with Australia and the hosts) but it is not usually recognised as a world championship victory for the Ferns, given the shared nature of the win and the fact there was no final.

Similarly, current Ferns Anna Scarlett and Leana de Bruin were also part of the team in 2003 but were squad players and did not take the court for the final. George has mixed memories of that day in Kingston eight years ago. The Ferns led 40-35 in the final quarter before George was sent off for three goals. The Diamonds levelled at 41-41 before New Zealand pulled away again to win 49-47, breaking a 38-match winning streak for Australia at the world championships. Van Dyk had the game of her life, shooting 41 goals from 44 attempts (93 per cent) - 83 per cent of the team's total.

She remembers being completely "in the zone", unable to hear or see anything else around her when she had the ball in her hands. "It felt amazing that day," she recalled. "It didn't matter where you got the ball, it felt like you had 10 seconds to take the shot." The 1.91m marvel has played 120 matches for the Silver Ferns and clocked up more than 4000 goals, while still maintaining an accuracy rate of over 90 per cent. Her enduring value to the Ferns can be measured by a simple fact - the last time New Zealand won a major title (world championships or Commonwealth Games) without her was 1987.