A tumultuous couple of days ended on a false note for Maria Folau, as the under-fire Silver Ferns sharpshooter was subbed halfway through the pre-World Cup practice match against a Kiwis All Star team in Auckland on Wednesday night.
Folau, who has come under fire for her public support of controversial former Wallabies superstar husband Israel - with two major netball sponsors on both sides of the Tasman publicly distancing them from her - was overshadowed by Sulu Fitzpatrick in the early stages of the match at the Pulman Arena and had to take a seat on the bench.
Better news for the Ferns, who start their World Cup campaign in England in little over two weeks, was that they looked fierce and fit - a welcome change to the side which coach Noeline Taurua recently described as unable to match the pace of some of the world's best.
Unsurprisingly, the Ferns were in control from the start - eventually running out 61-45 victors in the first of three games ahead of the showpiece event in Liverpool.
It was a game of defence in the early stages of the match as it quickly became less about shooting accuracy - with both sides putting up stellar accuracy statistics – and more about getting the ball into the circle.
Fitzpatrick was all over Folau in and around the shooting circle, forcing the Silver Ferns veteran to rely heavily on her long-range skills. It was a similar story at the other end of the court with All Star shooters Maia Wilson and Aliyah Dunn often struggling to get free from the tenacious Jane Watson and veteran Casey Kopua.
Dunn's height came in handy, however, with the youngster snagging plenty of high ball from midcourter Claire Kersten.
As the second half tipped off, Bailey Mes made her awaited return to the black dress while Folau surprisingly took a seat on the bench.
The Mystics shooter had plenty to prove after spending more than a year outside of the international scene, last appearing for the national side at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. But taking on the challenge seemingly unfazed, Mes held steady under the hoop netting 19/20 at 95 per cent, even forcing All Stars coach Yvette McCausland-Durie to make positional changes.
Erena Mikaere was called up to goal keep in an attempt to shut down ball in the Ferns' shooting circle but as the All Stars' momentum started to fade so did their chances of an upset.
With a decent eight-goal lead to start the final quarter, the Silver Ferns maintained control right until the final whistle.
They next face the New Zealand Men's Invitational team, who thrashed Fiji 93-19.