The Ferns gave legendary shooter Irene van Dyk a rousing send-off at Vector Arena tonight, claiming their third straight Fast5 World Series title with a stylish win over the Australian Flyers.
It wasn't quite the leaving do van Dyk had planned - she was originally to have played in the tournament before she was ruled out with a back injury earlier in the week - but the Ferns, Netball New Zealand management and the appreciative Auckland crowd ensured the star shooter was given a fitting farewell.
Van Dyk was very much a presence at the tournament with the crowd applauding loudly every time the star shooter entered the arena. They reserved their biggest cheers when van Dyk lined up on court for the final time with her teammates - joined by injured Silver Ferns Casey Kopua, Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Latu - as well as members of the Australian and English teams, forming a guard of honour for the game's greatest icon.
A moving tribute for van Dyk, in which featured an extensive highlights reel of her 20-year international career followed the grand final.
After coming through the tournament unbeaten, the Ferns were the favourites to retain their world title. But they faced strong competition from the Australians, who had put in a lot of work in the build-up to the tournament, holding special training camps to develop their short-form game.
The Ferns looked well in control with two minutes to go, but a couple of late super shots from Erin Bell (worth six points each during their power play) gave the Ferns a few nervous moments before they held on for a 35-31 win.
But it was Ellen Halpenny's three-point buzzer beater on halftime from a good couple of metres outside the circle that was the shot of the tournament, giving the Ferns a 15-10 lead at the long break. New Zealand extended that lead to 27- 15 heading into final turn following a quiet powerplay quarter.
England placed third after narrowing edging Jamaica 31-30 in the bronze medal match.
After an ill-heated meeting with the Sunshine (or should that be surly?) Girls earlier in the day, in which new Mystics import Serena Guthrie left the court with a broken wrist following an ugly challenge by Stacian Facey, there was plenty of feeling in the third-fourth play-off match.
South Africa finished fifth following their 30-22 win over Malawi.
International Netball Federation boss Molly Rhone yesterday confirmed there will be no Fast5 World Series next season. The weekend's tournament brought up the end of Netball New Zealand's stewardship of the event and INF have been struggling to find a new host.
Rhone said the organisation had been in talks with another nation to take on the hosting duties for a further three years, but they were unable to come to terms.
"As of now we have no host for the Fast5 World Series in 2015 so it is unlikely we will have Fast5 next year because our focus really is around the World Cup," said Rhone.
However, Rhone is confident this will not be the end of the shortened version of the game. She said the INF plan to keep the Fast5 product in their stable and hopes readdressing the financial model will make it more appealing for other nations to put their hand up to run the tournament in future.
Currently the hosts are lumped with all the costs of the tournament, including the airfares and accommodation for visiting teams.
Netball New Zealand boss Hilary Poole said her organisation will closely consider hosting the event again, but with a lot of die-hard netball fans planning trips to Sydney next year for the World Cup, she believes a 2015 tournament in Auckland would struggle to get the same level of support as this year.
"We look forward to it coming back. We have fulfilled our three-year commitment and the growth of the game has exceeded our expectations - it has developed a cult following," said Poole.