Thierry Neuville fought his way back to finish the first full-day of competition on Rally Australia in third place.

Neuville, who is making his debut on the event this week, admitted to feeling 'lost' after the morning's opening loop, but his pace and confidence improved this afternoon on the second pass.

Indeed he set a string of top-three stage times and climbed up into a podium position on the final test, ending the day 0.5 seconds up on Kris Meeke and on course to clinch a fifth successive rostrum result.

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"We did not expect the conditions to be as slippery as they were this morning," said the Qatar World Rally Team man. "The road and the lines looked completely different to what we saw on recce and my pacenotes were two-times too quick in places! I had to adapt my driving and I struggled to find a good rhythm in the first two stages [SS3 and SS4]. The last one [SS5] was better, but there was still some work to do."

"This afternoon it almost felt like we were driving completely different stages!" he continued. "My usual feeling and confidence with the car is certainly back. We worked hard to amend the pacenotes during midday service, but I think that maybe I was just struggling to get back into the rhythm of gravel driving this morning.

"Now, I feel much better and the handling of the car is great. I really enjoyed this afternoon's stages. The times were quick, yes, but we were not pushing and not taking any big risks. My aim is to finish the rally - for experience, but also to increase my second place in the championship."

Team-mates Mads Ostberg and Evgeny Novikov meanwhile finished the day sixth and eighth respectively in the sister M-Sport-run Fiesta RS WRC cars, the former surviving a big scare in SS8.

"The pacenotes were certainly a lot better this afternoon, but on SS8 we hit a huge rock. It was so big that the impact opened the [driver's] door," Ostberg recounted. "There was no way of avoiding it. It was in the middle of the line going into a right-hand corner and we hit it side-on. We were very lucky to get away with that one!"

"Overall I think the driving has been good this afternoon, but for some reason the times just aren't coming," he added. "I have no answer as to why they are not. The car felt okay. The only thing I'm not 100 per cent confident with is turning into the high speeds corners - but there have not been a lot of those out there today. It's a strange one for sure."

"I am really pleased to see all three cars finishing Day 1 in such a strong position - especially considering how little experience they [the drivers] have on these stages," summarised Qatar M-Sport boss, Malcolm Wilson. "We're certainly ahead of our goal for this rally.

"We always hoped a podium would be possible, but to be in a top-three position at the end of the first [full] day is very encouraging."