AUSTRALIAN Diamonds star Caitlin Bassett has had a soft spot for Newcastle ever since she made her Test debut here against England four years ago.
Just 20 at the time, in the first of 16 netball Test appearances, the 192-centimetre goal shooter from Western Australia came off the bench in Australia's 42-39 victory.
Bassett has made regular trips back to the city to play ANZ Championship matches for West Coast Fever against NSW Swifts, was here last year when Australia beat England 62-47, and will line up against South Africa at Newcastle Entertainment Centre tonight.
In the second round of the Quad Series, Australia will try to maintain their unbeaten record against South Africa in the main game.
New Zealand play England in the curtain-raiser.
Bassett, who scored Australia's winning goal in extra time of the world championship final against New Zealand in Singapore in 2011, was at her sharp-shooting best with 20 goals from 23 attempts in Australia's 64-40 victory over England in Adelaide on Sunday.
"Yeah, 2008 seems like such a long time ago, but I've come back here and played with Fever since then, and we played a Test here last year in Newcastle," Bassett said before a training session at Hunter Sports High School's new indoor facility yesterday.
"It was weird being back in the same hotel as when I made my debut, so a lot of memories came flooding back for me."
Bassett said the Diamonds enjoyed playing in regional centres like Newcastle.
"I think because we don't get out here that often, the support is just amazing," she said.
"It's not a level of netball they get to see that often, so they really embrace us when we come out to these regional cities like Newcastle.
"It's really good to get out of the big city and get away sometimes. It's a little bit quieter out here and I suppose we get a chance to relax a little bit and it's not as much hustle and bustle.
"I was chatting to one of my teammates on the bus coming out here for training, about how many people were going to be coming to the game, and obviously it's not going to be as much as if we played in Sydney or Melbourne.
"But you find the crowd is that more passionate. They love watching netball, and they love sport in general here in Newcastle, so it's really exciting to play in front of a crowd that loves to watch, and they're always a little bit louder, so I can't wait to play."
Bassett played the first two quarters on Sunday before being replaced by veteran Cath Cox.
"Starting is definitely new to me, and it's something that I need to work on," she said.
"I watch Cath every time she starts, and she's so strong and confident, and I think that's something that I need to start emulating - stepping out and being strong from the start."
Australian coach Lisa Alexander challenged the Newcastle crowd to make more noise tonight than their South Australian counterparts did on Sunday.
"We want a vocal crowd. We definitely want a noisy crowd on Wednesday night," said Alexander, whose first Test as Diamonds head coach was in Newcastle last October.
"It was probably a little bit quiet in Adelaide, I have to say, so I'm really encouraging the Newcastle crowd to be in fine voice.
"The regional centres are really important to the Australian Diamonds, and we're very conscious that we're a truly national sport.
"We've got netballers here and in every corner of the country, and if we can come here and show them what we can do on court against great international opposition, it's just ideal."