The word is netball fans will be hard pushed to find "smug", wrapped in winter woollies, nestled in a seat somewhere at the Pettigrew-Green Arena in Napier this season, if the opening round of the Super 8 is anything to go by.
It seems the contenders are leaving complacency behind at the carpark during the Karamu Holden-sponsored premier competition on Friday nights.
No, there's little chance of the Central Pulse netball or Canterbury Crusaders rugby-type of resignation taking hold of the Hawke's Bay senior women's league this winter.
Last Friday, Outkast Optimise Physio eclipsed defending champions Napier Girls' High School Senior A 46-42 and All In Tremains Elusive had the measure of losing finalists Otane Thirsty Whale 44-41.
If that wasn't enough, comeback campaigners Havelock North House of Travel Kauri overwhelmed Hastings Girls' High School Senior A 61-27 and new-look Hastings High School Old Girls' Proactive Huia registered a nail-biting 42-42 stalemate Central Sports Vet Services.
"It was a good result but I don't believe it was our full strength, given that we had key members, like Amanda Palmer, missing," said Outkast stand-in skipper Rakei Sa'ena before they play Kauri in round two this Friday at 6pm.
"We didn't go into that game expecting to take us lightly because we had to fight for the win, given they are the reigning champs," Sa'ena said.
NGHS centre Shyan Murphy was up against her former teammates, facing player/coach Jeda Bartlett, Laine Falcon-Maxwell and Llewellyn Combs.
Outkast went on a six-goal spree to open an 11-3 lead in the first quarter before NGHS responded with a run of six of their own to close the gulf to 9-11 and going into halftime trailing by four.
The schoolgirls eventually found some rhythm and cohesiveness to claw back to within a point at the end of the third quarter, levelling 41-all, with five minutes to play.
Unfortunately, NGHS had opportunities but couldn't make them stick in the circle as Outkast racked up the next five goals.
However, a circumspect Sa'ena said it was difficult to start a competition not having the involvement in the grading competition.
"It's like we were — I wouldn't say rusty but — coming into the competition a little cold, I guess," she said, grateful for the automatic qualifying status but seeing the benefit in a pre-season build up.
The Eastern Institute of Technology accounting student, who also works part-time as a Māori school administrator, felt NGHS showed character to level a few times but couldn't recall them taking the lead.
A chuckling Sa'ena said Outkast wouldn't be taking HGHS lightly either.
All In, undefeated in grading, made their intentions clear as GS Pania Rowe nailed 18 from just as many attempts in the first half against her former team, Otane, for a 25-18 lead.
Otane player/coach Tammy Kupa injected Grace Major into the goal shoot position.
Despite Rowe scoring three more when play resumed Otane managed to thread the ball to
Major on counter-attacks, amassing more shots in the third spell than the first half.
With a three-point difference going into the final quarter, All In switched captain/coach Candis Timms back into the centre role for stability. The sides drew the last quarter but All In were left grinning.
The Central v Huia affair pitted former Samoa international defender Tee Aiolupotea (Huia newbie) against goal shoot Kirby Beach later that night.
The Judy Brown-captained Huia established an eight-point lead at halftime on the platform of stifling Central to just six goals in the second quarter and depositing just as many at the other end without a reply from the opposition.
But Central weren't done. With five minutes left on the clock they set the match alight, drawing 38-all after reaping the rewards of coach Jeanette Oliver's brave tactical changes at halftime. Kelly Wardle slapped on the GK bib to try to ruffle the feathers of Huia goal shoot Brown, who had accrued 20 goals at the break. Oliver also handed Beach the goal-attack portfolio, which had the PG Arena buzzing and the Central bench vocal.
With two minutes remaining, Huia were on tenterhooks but they won a crucial turnover while Brown didn't lose her love with the hoop.
Central co-captain Anna Cudby, shouldering the reponsibility with Isabel Crawshaw, said her troops had put up the shutters adroitly in the last 10 minutes.
"With five minutes to go, it was goal for goal but, unfortunately, they got a goal to level things up just before the final whistle," said Cudby, fancying their chances of a victory.
The 27-year-old Cherri Global employee said a new-look Huia had a youthful look about them so Central didn't drop their guard at any time.
"It was a really, really good game," Cudby said, adding oppositions hadn't challenged Central in the grading competition. "It was a huge result so, I think, our result and all the results — maybe not counting Kauri and Hastings Girls — really show it's going to be a great competition this year."
The Kauri defence had restricted HGHS to seven shots in the first quarter before distributing the ball up to shooters Tania Lakin and Michelle Bazalo who posted a combined 81 per cent success rate between them.
HGHS captain Liana Mikaele-Tu'u inspired in the goal defence bib while shooter Arkeylah Tuaine slotted seven goals in the final quarter.
Cudby suspected HGHS, who Central face next, wouldn't have had much of a pre-season.
"I think school teams should have to qualify as well, just to make sure because that score against Kauri showed there's a big gap there," she said, revealing Kauri was in their grading pool and had lost convincingly.
"It's no fun getting beaten by 30 goals so, hopefully, they'll [HGHS] improve throughout the season," the centre said, hoping not to eat her words on Friday night.
Brown said Huia let minor errors crept in so they considered themselves lucky to draw.
"It's good having Tee and a few more wise heads in the team but having young people can make it a little hard as well," said the physiotherapist, mindful the youngsters would have come out wiser for the contact against Central's seasoned players.
Brown, in her third season with Huia, said the halftime lead had given them a sense of a false dawn.
"They came back at us and we thought, 'What the hell's happening right now' but we're happy to come away with a draw rather than a loss," she said.
Huia face Otane who Brown reckoned had a lot to prove after their loss.
"They'll come out with a hiss and roar so we'll just have to be prepared for that."
Matches at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, this Friday:
■ 6pm: Hastings High School Old Girls Proactive Huia v Otane Thirsty Whale.
■ 6pm: Havelock North House of Travel Kauri Havelock North v Outkast Optimise Physio.
■ 7.30pm: Central Sports Vet Services v Hastings Girls' High School Senior A.
■ 7.30pm: All In Tremains Elusive v Napier Girls' High School Senior A.