IT'S been a Super Netball season full of surprises for Bec Bulley and the star Giants defender is hoping for one more on Saturday.
The former Bendigo and Loddon Valley leagues netballer is hoping to cap the most unlikeliest of seasons with a national league grand final win against the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
Bulley, who played her earliest netball with Calivil United and later joined Sandhurst before heading to the Australian Institute of Sport as an 18-year-old, said there was no one more surprised than herself knowing she would be lining up in a grand final, after she had initially called time on her stellar international and national netball career in 2015.
"I remember last year sitting on the couch watching the (ANZ Championship) grand final, still being as nervous as what I was when I was playing, but thinking 'thank goodness I don't have to do this anymore, I can sit back and enjoy it'," she said.
"I certainly wasn't expecting to be back playing a grand final again."
It was a pre-season achilles injury to defender Kristiana Manu'a that led to an approach from Giants coach Julie Fitzgerald for the former Australian Diamond to return as a replacement player.
Bulley, who gave birth to her first child Indie during her absence from the sport, said it took plenty of convincing to return.
"My initial thought when Julie rang and asked me to play was I thought I can't do it, that I would embarrass myself, and I had finished on a high, why would I want to do this to myself again," she said.
"But it was actually my husband (Randall) who was the one who really convinced me. He said Bec I think you can do it, you just have to get fit.
"He was my motivation, making sure I got running again."
Bulley said the short nature of her pre-season - about nine weeks - had proved influential in keeping her fresh and focused as opposed to hindering her return to the top-level.
"At my age, it doesn't take long for me to get fit - and the break was really good for me as well," she said.
"But most of all I had a point to prove that you can have a baby and make a successful comeback to elite sport.
"That was my motivation.
"I hope that other elite sportswomen don't have to put off having children until they have retired ... I hope it's something anyone can do and make a successful comeback."
Being a positive role model for family and other mothers and athletes is something that rests comfortably with the former Diamond.
Bulley, who is the daughter of Lynely and Leon Strachan and sister to star South Bendigo ruckman Kieran Strachan, remains proud of her country origins.
"It's really nice to remember where you have come from and hopefully that inspires some of the young country girls who want to become an elite netballer that it can be done - distance isn't a barrier," she said.
A gold medallist with the Diamonds at the 2015 world championships, Bulley will be chasing her fourth championship following wins with the New South Wales Swifts in 2008, Adelaide Thunderbirds (2013) and Queensland Firebirds (2015).
With just one goal separating the Giants and Lightning in both their matches this season, for a win apiece, a grand final every bit as exciting as last season's double-overtime thriller between the Queensland Firebirds and New South Wales Swifts is anticipated.
Her grand final opponent will be no surprise, with Bulley's duel against Lightning goal attack Stephanie Wood to pit former Diamond against current Diamond.
It's really nice to remember where you have come from and hopefully that inspires some of the young country girls who want to become an elite netballer that it can be done.Bec Bulley
The 34-year-old's pairing with Sam Poolman against the combination of Wood and gun goal shooter Caitlin Bassett shapes as key to the outcome.
"(Wood) is a player who is quite fast and nippy and she's a great feeder into Caitlin Bassett," she said.
"I want to put as mach pressure as I can on her outside the circle.
"Hopefully we can break that combination between her and Caitlin Bassett."
Equally important will be the match-up at the other end between the Giants' Kristiana Brice and Jo Harten against the league's statistically most miserly defence combination of Geva Mentor and Karla Mostert.
"Krissy Brice as a goal shooter is a really good target for us - we have the capability to score quickly and quite easily," Bulley said.
As has been customary during this season, now 16-month old Indie will be in the sell-out crowd on Saturday night.
It's Indie who Bulley credits to making her transition back to netball a smooth one.
"For me, she's not so much a good luck charm, she's my inspiration and motivation," she said.
"I want to get out there and make her proud, but at the end of the day she keeps me grounded.
"At the end of the day it's a game of netball, at the end of the game I get to go and have cuddle with Indie and she doesn't care whether I win or lose."
The Super Netball grand final will be televised live on Channel 9 from 7pm on Saturday night.