Some stars of the future emerged as last year's finalists all took Newcastle championship wins in netball's long-awaited return to National Park on Saturday.
University of Newcastle, formerly Forsythes, beat BNC Whanau 50-26 as three-time defending champions West Leagues Balance downed new side Inner Glow, who are mostly made up of the Charlestown open representative side, 38-31.
Souths defeated Junction 60-26 and Nova Thunder were 65-32 winners over Kotara South.
The round was the first of nine in a modified season with no finals and, while plenty of familiar faces were back in action, a host of young talent also emerged.
Souths coach Tracey van Dal was full of praise for 15-year-old goal shooter Millie Tonkin, who came on at the first break and "changed the game".
"She was dynamic, very high percentage shooting," van Dal said. "She would have been shooting at 90 per cent and dominated that goal circle. She's definitely a star of the future."
Abbey Leyshon played the whole game at wing attack, Laura Neale was used at goal defence and wing defence and Georgia King was injected into the second half at goal keeper.
"They've all been through out pathways and have been promoted this year, and that's what I'm most pleased about," van Dal said.
"They all stepped up, blended in beautifully and didn't miss a beat and were all able to get good time."
Evergreen midcourter Narelle Eather, 44, returned to the court for her first game since a knee reconstruction 12 months ago and played the whole game at centre for Souths.
"We've got the experience of Narelle in the midcourt , Katelyn Stansfield at goal attack and Tianna Cummings in the circle defence," van Dal said.
"It's perfect having those three in each third of the court and to blend the young ones with them."
Leading into the first round, West coach Tracey Baggs described the modified season as "opportunity" and had no hesitation giving some of her club's young talent game time with big-name players like Maddie Taylor and Tarsha Hawley sidelined due to playing restrictions enforced by their NSW Netball Premier League club.
"Emrah Manning, our goal keeper was outstanding," Baggs said. "She worked really hard the whole game, along with Mikenzie McManus.
"Defensively they toiled away. I didn't have a reserve option for back there, so they had to work things out and work through any difficulties they had early and that was the first time of playing together for those two.
"Emrah did step up for us in one game last year but that's her first full game where she was a starter and knew she had to keep it together for the whole game.
"Moving into next year, this nine weeks is going to be a good grounding for some of those younger players and it also shows the experienced girls that's there are people who can now push them."
With the game tight at half-time, Baggs injected Abbey Carr (wing defence) and Tayla Winter (goal shooter) into the match and West were able to take control with a strong third quarter.
University coach Traci Baber had NSW Netball Premier League players Veronica Smith and Erin Asquith out due to club restrictions, Kim Williams was injured and Sophie Perkins was a late withdrawal due to illness.
"I only had seven so I pulled up midcourter Mia Peden, who is our 23s captain, and that gave us one spare," Baber said.
"She is 18 or 19 and she played amazing. She played three quarters, wing attack for two quarters then centre for the last quarter, and was a superstar. I'll be pulling a player most weeks and giving them an opportunity."
Nova player-coach Katie Robinson said cohesion set up their 33-goal win.
"It was like we'd all played together for a long time," Robinson said. "Even putting Caity Lobston in the middle at wing attack, which is a little bit out of her comfort zone, worked well.
"We could always just find space and the ball was always moving quickly. Brooke Fenning was a good target for us. She was always open and, even if the ball wasn't in the right spot, she had a bit more confidence to go and get it.
"Our goal defence Laura Nolan was fantastic. She was picking balls out of everyone's pocket. She did the hard work one on one but would often pull off and get the speccy intercept that would boost the team."
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here