With a spot in the grand final on the line, there's a strong focus of 'win and you're in' for Central Manawa heading into the last round of the 2024 Synergy Hair Netball League (NNL).

In the most closely contested NNL to date, a tight tussle has developed at the top of the table with four teams vying for the two grand final spots in the season-decider on June 23.

There are several permutations that could play out with the Comets currently sitting at the top of the table, a point ahead of Manawa, while the Marvels and Waikato Bay of Plenty, a further four points back, are also in with a shout.

With all teams playing this weekend, Manawa meet Mainland in the final game of the regular season in Christchurch on Sunday, the southerners out of the reckoning but enjoying a strong finish to the season and no doubt keen to play spoilers.

"I think there's been some speculation that even if we tie with another team, we also have a strong chance of making it through (to the grand final) but winning is definitely what's uppermost in our minds," Manawa defender Zalika Clarke said.

Hard work and perseverance have paid off for the lean and rangy 1.85m goal defence, who has become a regular starter for Manawa this year. In her third season with the team, it’s been a breakthrough year for Clarke, who made two brief appearances off the bench last season after being a squad training partner in her first year but not in the playing team.

"It's been a big step up and very different from the previous two seasons but I’ve really enjoyed it this year," she said.

"It's really cool to make the court and we've also got a really cool team culture this year and I'm loving it. It's really supportive and encouraging. Everyone's for each other, but also pushing each other.’’

Clarke, 20, has been playing netball since primary school and now plays out of the PIC club. She attended Wellington Girls' College through her secondary school years and is following in her art teacher mum's footsteps, currently in her third year of a Fine Arts degree at Massey University and is looking to graduate with Honours next year.

Well on the way with her studies, Clarke's netball growth has also been evident this season.

"Obviously making the court has helped a lot with my growth, getting the match-play and everything associated with it has helped me grow in confidence and my ability. And it's nice to feel that," she said.

With sister team Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse plagued by injuries this season, several Manawa players have stepped up to add cover, causing disruption to both teams but there is a strong desire to continue their outstanding record in the NNL.

With the exception of 2021, defending champions Manawa have appeared in every final since the inception of the league in 2016, pocketing five titles in the process (the 2020 season was cancelled due to Covid-19) and are ready to give it another good crack against Mainland.

"The plan is to just play our own game, focus on our structures, have patience with the ball in hand, don't force the issue, do what we know how to do, and play how we know we can play," Clarke said. "If we stick to that, we know we should win."