The national netball team's first phase of preparing for their SEA Games title defence concluded successfully after the four-team Summer Quad Series in Belfast, Northern Ireland, ended yesterday (Singapore time).
Singapore, ranked 19th in the world, finished third after beating world No. 24 Ireland 48-40 at the Lisburn Racquets Club early yesterday morning. World No. 11 Northern Ireland were champions, while 12th-ranked Barbados were runners-up.
While interim national coach Yeo Mee Hong is heartened by the improvements made throughout the June 19-23 tournament, she knows the new-look team's task of retaining their SEA Games crown remains a formidable one.
Reiterating that the defending champions will be the underdogs at the Aug 19-30 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Yeo told The Sunday Times: "Malaysia are a very strong team - they won the Asian Championships last year and they've kept that team.
"For us, we are still working to build the team and we have some players who are quite new, so with the senior players guiding the younger ones, hopefully we will be ready by then and give Malaysia a good game."
Since defeating Malaysia to win gold at the 2015 SEA Games here, the national side have been weakened by the retirement of veterans Micky Lin, Premila Hirubalan and Chen Hui Fen in May last year. Together, they shared a total of 328 caps.
Still, Yeo believes the performance of the 14-strong squad over the past week bodes well for the future.
Yesterday's wire-to-wire victory over Ireland was commendable, she said, as the Singapore side controlled the game well and kept possession even as their opponents ramped up the pressure in the final quarter.
Noting that the March 4-April 29 Netball Super League also provided a "good build-up", Yeo was glad all 14 players had court time in Belfast, with shooters Rima Yanti and Toh Kai Wei earning their first international caps.
"We were able to sort out some player combinations that we've been trying and I thought they were really good," added the 52-year-old. "It was a very good learning curve for all the players because they hardly get this (level of) competition back home."
National captain Vanessa Lee believes the team is heading in the right direction in their title defence, albeit with "lots of work in progress".
The 12-player SEA Games squad is due to be finalised after the Belfast training tour.
Yeo declined to reveal who the final 12 are likely to be as discussions are still ongoing.
The Games-bound players will attend a training tour in New Zealand from July 21-29 as part of their final phase of preparations for the biennial Games.