Bursting into the Weekly's photoshoot, a whirlwind of long limbs and tanned skin, Temepara Bailey and Leana de Bruin are a flurry of excitement.
Fit, fabulous and raring to go, the former Silver Ferns are fresh from training. With only weeks to go until the first match of the ANZ Premiership, the newly minted Northern Stars teammates have been hitting the court hard in preparation.
However, pulling on matching bibs and dresses – for the first time since 2011 – was never the plan for either Temepara (43) or Leana (41).
"Oh God, has it been that long since we last played together?!" Leana asks Temepara, her eyes wide as she lets out an incredulous laugh.
"I think so!" Temepara replies. "Wow. Okay. Wow!"
In fact, it's officially been seven years since Temepara 'retired' from netball, however the pocket rocket midcourter − who's still stubbornly known in netball circles as 'Bubby', despite the fact she's now the grandmother of a four-year-old and a nine-month-old − can't seem to escape the game she loves.
After answering an SOS from her former club, the Northern Mystics, in 2014, she's once again stepping up, this time to help out the Stars, a club she's also been assistant coach of for the last few years.
The decision was huge – one that required her to move home from her new base in Thailand, and also one that asked for serious commitment to get her skills back up to a premier level.
"Yeah, I definitely didn't expect to be back!" Temepara laughs.
"It was really because of Grace [Kara] getting pregnant, which was super-exciting. But now it's like, 'Wow. I have to get out there and practise what I preach!' As a coach and a commentator, you're always going on about what players should be doing, so now I have to make sure I'm doing it!"
"I texted her when Grace had to withdraw," Leana adds, grinning.
"I remember saying, 'So, are you going to replace Grace?', not being serious or anything. And she texted back, saying, 'I am!' I rang her straight away and asked if she was serious. And she asks me, 'How do you feel about that?' I was like, 'It's awesome!'"
Temepara, who will combine her assistant coaching role with playing, admits she was a bit nervous about coming back and wasn't sure how both the netball community or the public would take the news.
"But when Vlooi [Leana's nickname] said that, I felt great," she nods. "I felt like I could breathe again!"
As for defender Leana, who's just returned from a year-long stint in South Australia playing for the Adelaide Thunderbirds, this year will be her last – though she admits she's said that before, even in the pages of the Weekly!
"Look, never say never – look at Bubby!" she chuckles. "But I'm pretty sure it will be my last season, and I wanted to come home and enjoy it."
The move to Australia, with her eight-year-old son Caleb, was rougher than Leana expected and she made the call to return home midway through the 2018 season.
"It was tough," she says. "I mean, I loved the competition itself, you play against a lot of international players, but it was hard being away from home.
"Australia is so much bigger, people also tend to keep to themselves a bit more, and Kiwis seem to help each other a lot more. We're friendlier maybe, I don't know, I'm biased!
"But I'm glad I did it. I would have always wondered 'what if' if I didn't do it. But I'm not a good loser and we were beaten every week!"
"She's definitely not a good loser," Temepara cheekily chimes in.
So the former Ferns players have found themselves in the same team and both are taking their roles as the experienced members of the club seriously – although they do sometimes have to remind each other that their particular style of friendship and communication isn't as commonplace as it used to be on the netball court!
"The younger ones do look at us funny sometimes," tells Temepara. "The way we talk to each other is, er, very different than what they're used to!"
"We demand the best from each other," adds Leana. "So it'll be Bubby going, 'So, are you going to go for that ball?!' or, 'Are you going to cover the front!?' We're pretty blunt, but I mean, we've known each other for a long time. It's been so great, though – and now I don't feel like the odd one out!"
Leana has returned home to Cambridge, a welcome relief for the farm girl after Adelaide's city life, while Temepara's enjoying spending some time with her mum at her Auckland home after living in Thailand. Now, the longtime mates are relishing spending time together on court.
It's this close bond, forged by more than 18 years of knowing each other, that the pair rely on not only on the court, but off it too. They've been buddies ever since Leana moved to New Zealand from South Africa, and played together at the highest level for eight years.
"We know each other so well," nods Temepara. "We're a good team. Especially when I have to come in and smooth over what Vlooi has just said to the team!"
"If I vent or I'm frustrated, she'll come over," laughs Leana. "That's why everyone loves her and they're scared of me!"
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