Philippa Anderson is well accustomed to the pressure that comes with a season-ending shot at making the championship tour.
But after seven finishes only a few spots outside qualification, the Merewether surfer is in a "different head space" this year for the 6000-point Port Stephens Toyota Pro, which runs from Friday to Sunday.
Anderson, in her 12th year of qualifying series competition, likely needs to at least make the final at Birubi Beach to secure a maiden CT season in 2020.
She sits 20th on the QS standings on 9820 points, 3240 behind Zahli Kelly, who is just inside the cutline. The top six from the QS, who have not already qualified via the CT, are promoted to the top tour.
Anderson, who has finished 12th on the QS twice and 13th three times, has been in a better position heading into the last event.
Last year she was 11th before the Port Stephens Pro, where she made the quarter-finals, racking up her highest season tally of 12,080 points. However, results from other tour hopefuls went against her and she narrowly missed out.
This year, Anderson has given herself a remote chance after two recent results.
She was a quarter-finalist at the 10,000-point Galicia Classic Surf Pro in Spain in September, then a semi-finalist at the 3000-point Hyuga Pro in Japan.
The late surge after a largely frustrating season has eased the expectations and pressure on Anderson, who starts in round four at the Port Stephens Pro.
"Every year I've gone in kind of knowing what I need, and this year I definitely need to make the finals," Anderson said. "There's a little less pressure but I'm just happy that I made a couple of heats in Spain. That turned it around and I was happy not to have a totally bad year.
"I'm not really that fussed if I don't qualify. Obviously I really want to, but I think I'm just in a different head space, having a pretty bad year."
Anderson warmed up for the deciding event with a third consecutive Michilis Mattara Surf Classic title last weekend. She was hoping to add a valuable result this weekend to that $2000 prize as she prepares for another likely campaign on the QS.
"If I don't qualify, hopefully I can just make a couple of heats so I'm in the main rounds next year," she said.
"I've just had a really bad year besides a fifth and a third in the last two events.
"I guess I've never really had a really bad year for a while. I've always just been pretty consistent and almost made it, so it was just a bit frustrating - training really hard and having my equipment dialled, but just not making heats.
"I know at least one of my sponsors is going to back me next year. I'm still enjoying it and my body is still keeping it up, so I may as well keep trying ... I'm living a pretty amazing life."
Friend and fellow South African-born Merewether surfer Sarah Baum starts in heat five of round two. Local hope Elle Clayton-Brown is in the following heat. Madi Poole (heat one) and Amelie Bourke (four) are Newcastle surfers in round one.