Lock the Silver Ferns in the World Cup semifinals. One match early, even.

Now the real tests arrive, first in the form of defending champions Australia.

Five comfortable wins across five days in Liverpool, the latest a 77-28 victory over eighth-ranked Northern Ireland, ensures Noeline Taurua's side will progress to the knockout stages this weekend, regardless of the result from their final group game against the seemingly ominous Australians.

Given New Zealand's smallest margin of victory – 19 goals – came in the opening match against Malawi, the Silver Ferns were always expected to reach the final four.

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But after last year's Commonwealth Games, where New Zealand lost to Malawi and failed to medal for the first time, netball fans have learned to take nothing for granted.

Thus far, this Ferns side looks a different beast, though victories over Malawi (64-45), Barbados (78-25), Singapore (89-21), Zimbabwe (79-36) and Northern Ireland makes gauging progress difficult.

Australia, England and Norma Plummer's South Africa, who seem set to reach the semifinals after stunning Jamaica, are completely different prospects.

"I've had enough, I suppose. I'm looking forward to playing these big teams. This is what it's all about," Taurua said. "In three games, probably two to be honest, we'll know where we are at but I'm really excited, I can't wait.

"Every game we have been building not only to Australia but the big teams in England and probably South Africa now.

"We've got varied strategies and we're not one dimensional so depending on the opposition we don't have to change too much - we've been working on a few things. Every day is about incremental improvements."

Jane Watson of New Zealand and Ciara Crosbie of Northern Ireland in action. Photo / Getty
Jane Watson of New Zealand and Ciara Crosbie of Northern Ireland in action. Photo / Getty

New Zealand's final group showdown with Australia on Thursday night (NZT) will now determine who tops their pool, and secures the potentially easier semifinal match up.

England's last pool game against South Africa on Friday morning (NZT) will also be pivotal in deciding semifinal opponents.

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The seventh meeting between New Zealand and Northern Ireland followed another predicable script.

The Ferns didn't match their dominance from the last meeting, the 92-25 victory at the 1999 World Cup in Christchurch, but were never threatened after scoring the first six goals to start on a slick note.

Katrina Rore was handed the wing defence bib, and Taurua maintained her strong starting seven until halftime, by which point the Ferns established a commanding 44-11 buffer after scoring 22 goals in each quarter.

The defensive end of Casey Kopua and Jane Watson were again hugely influential, both in snaffling intercepts and in transition.

Taurua made a raft of changes in the second spell which stunted momentum – the Ferns winning the third quarter 17-6 and edging the final period by five goals.

All 12 squad members were again handed court time against Northern Ireland.

This rotation policy has been necessary to manage players after such a ruthless workload to start this tournament.

"I only make changes if I need to," Taurua said. "Today was the last in terms of managing players and knowing how many quarters each can have. When we play Australia it will be boots and all basically."

Ferns captain Laura Langman is savouring the prospect of her side's first rest day tomorrow, before returning to take on Australia, who thrashed Malawi 74-25 today after leading 41-5 at halftime and then making mass changes.

"I'm relieved we got through the five days," Langman said.

"Body wise we're feeling pretty good which is a different story to four years ago.

"Our strength is going to lie in having 12 ready to go on Thursday. Aussie are playing very clinical. They get ball, they create ball, so we're going to have to focus on ball retention and not taking the pedal off the metal when momentum is going our way."