The Adelaide Thunderbirds have dealt the Sunshine Coast Lightning's Super Netball title hopes a reality check with a pulsating 61-60 win at Brisbane's Nissan Arena.
In a match the fourth-placed Lightning should have pocketed against the seventh-placed South Australians, they developed the wobbles ahead of a tough two-game finish to the regular season.
Instead of seizing first place on the ladder, the Sunshine Coast are fighting for rhythm and will not have it any easier in looming top four showdowns against the Giants and the Swifts.
The Lightning had no answers to a midcourt masterclass from Maisie Nankivell (46 feeds, 35 goal assists) and have now dropped consecutive games against lower-ranked opponents.
Lightning assistant coach, netball great Vicki Wilson, regards the remaining assignments as opportunities rather than hurdles.
"There's two games to go and that gives us a great opportunity to find the form that we need," she said.
"We demonstrated passages of it, but then the third quarter really got away from us.
"We know there's not too many games left for that opportunity. It doesn't matter who the opponent is, it's just important everyone starts finding that consistency and form that allows everyone to be at their best."
The result was the Thunderbirds' first victory against the Lightning and they had to fight to the finish for it.
After falling behind by as much as four goals during the third term, the Lightning turned to Maddy McAuliffe - their third rotation at centre - to claw back the deficit in the fourth quarter.
The change failed to have the desired impact, with the Thunderbirds' Hannah Petty having a big final term to help seal the result.
Lenize Potgieter (40 goals) calmly potted the winning shot in the dying seconds to break a 60-60 deadlock and goal keeper Shamera Sterling grasped one of her six gains at the death in a stunning individual performance.
Cara Koenen (27 goals) was on target early but was eventually silenced by Sterling.
The Lightning looked like anything but title contenders in the first half.
Adelaide have been a long way from top-four contention all season and yet they made the two-time champions look drab for big chunks of the game.
Sunshine Coast's attacks struggled to find space while the Thunderbirds' Maisie Nankivell had a field day.
Nankivell's ability to find her goalers from any range was one of the highlights of a tight first half.
Australian Associated Press