Playing their first match in 10 months, the Silver Ferns showcased a mix of combinations while completing a hard-fought 59-44 win over NZA on the opening day of the 2020 Cadbury Netball Series in Palmerston North on Wednesday.
With spots on the line and cross-squad mixes happening during the series ahead of meeting England next week, there was plenty for all involved to play for. And that showed.
Both teams made multiple changes throughout, the Silver Ferns overcoming a slow start to pull away after delivering a strong second half. Also, in evidence was the depth of talent at the top level with all players getting court time to press their claims.
With goal attack Monica Falkner impressing in her first top-level match after 15 months out with a serious knee injury, NZA made the early running. Keeping the Silver Ferns honest throughout the opening stanza, NZA went goal-for-goal with their opposites.
Falkner received good service from pivot Whitney Souness, the Silver Ferns taking time to settle on attack as NZA secured extra ball through the hustle of their defenders.
The Silver Ferns found their feet late in the piece to nudge into a 13-12 lead at the first break.
There were plenty of changes on the resumption, teenaged shooting sensation Grace Nweke getting her first opportunity in the black dress after replacing Maia Wilson. Shannon Saunders took over from Kimiora Poi at centre while Sulu Fitzpatrick came on for Jane Watson at goalkeeper.
For NZA, Elle Bird took over at goal shoot for Aliyah Dunn but it was the Silver Ferns who got the better traction through an improved second stanza.
Breaking the goal-for-goal arm wrestle was helped by the injection of Nweke and Fitzpatrick at either end of the court. The wily Fitzpatrick was instrumental in turning ball over at the defensive end while a nervous Nweke, once settled, scored a quick-fire 13/16 during the 15 minutes.
Finding more flow and accuracy on attack, the Silver Ferns increased their buffer to a 30-25 lead at the main break.
There was more mixing and matching for both teams in the third quarter, the Silver Ferns getting the jump to increase their lead while restricting NZA’s scoring opportunities.
Wilson, Poi and Watson (goal defence) returned for the Silver Ferns while Te Paea Selby-Rickit (goal attack) got her first minutes of the match. For NZA, Jamie Hume (goal attack), Maddy Gordon (wing attack) and Kate Heffernan (wing defence) came off the bench.
Fitzpatrick and Watson proved a menacing defensive combination for the Silver Ferns, putting the brakes on any thoughts of a NZA comeback while Wilson was rock solid in the shooting circle. At the other end of the court, Bird was also productive when given the opportunity.
With more ball at their disposal, the Silver Ferns took a handy 46-35 lead into the last turn.
There was no let-up in the run home, the tall figure of Kelly Jury making the most of her first opportunity in the black dress for two years with a forceful contribution from goalkeeper.
In the day's first match, the NZ Men proved too good for a plucky NZU21 side when prevailing 73-44.
In a year of change and uncertainty, New Zealand’s four elite teams will be involved in the four-day series which also includes the Silver Ferns and NZA.
The NZ Men flew home in the final quarter after being kept honest by the NZU21 team for much of the opening three-quarters.
It is a key series for all involved, the NZU21s using it as important preparation ahead of next year’s Netball World Youth Club while the NZ Men will get to play their World Cup next year after this year’s event was postponed due to COVID-19.
Both teams exhibited plenty of the flair, the ‘no fear attitude’ of the youthful NZU21s matching the NZ Men in an entertaining opening stanza.
The NZU21s got off to the perfect start, slotting the first three goals before the NZ Men found their feet and rhythm to stamp an early mark. Both teams had their moments in a fast-paced opening which provided plenty of ball movement.
Finding their rhythm and connections, the NZ Men overcame their slow start to highlight their renowned strengths of ball speed, athletic ability and aerial prowess. The imposing figure of goal shoot Junior Levi, who towered over the NZU21 in-circle defenders of Taneisha Fifita and Parris Mason, was instrumental in getting his team on the front foot.
The NZU21s took their opponents on gamely with a few highlights of their own, shooters Saviour Tui and captain Tiana Metuarau combining well while Mason and centre Renee Savai’inaea relished the physical contest.
With plenty of ball getting into his hands, Levi ensured the NZ Men took a 17-10 lead into the first break.
Metuarau moved into wing attack on the resumption with Khiarna Williams coming off the bench and into goal attack for the NZU21s which paid dividends as the second stanza progressed.
With goal defence Jake Schuster having a strong presence for the NZ Men and the well-versed attack line of Levi, Daniel Jefferies, Cameron Powell and captain Kruze Tangira building on their familiar connections, the floodgates threatened to burst open.
However, the growing link between Tui and Metuarau paid dividends, the NZU21s making a strong comeback as they gained more impetus on attack.
Losing the quarter by just three goals, with Tui producing an 18/22 return, the NZ Men took a 34-24 lead into the main break. Levi scored 25/28 for the first half.
Making multiple changes, the NZ Men’s aerial game got the better of their young opponents during the third quarter while Georgie Edgecombe took over at centre and Savai’inaea went to wing defence for the NZU21s.
Struggling a little on their second phase play, the NZU21s came to life with Williams finding her feet to produce some sparkling play in the circle. Showing good hustle on defence, Fifita and Mason got their hands to a number of turnover opportunities. Respective goal shooters Tui and Levi continued to be individual standouts for their respective teams as the NZ Men took a 51-34 lead into the last break.
OFFICIAL RESULTS AND STATS:
Silver Ferns: 59
Shooting Stats - Silver Ferns:
Grace Nweke 22/28 (77%)
Maia Wilson 21/24 (88%)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit 9/11 (82%)
Ameliaranne Ekenasio 7/9 (78%)
Shooting Stats - NZA:
Ellie Bird 23/26 (89%)
Monica Falkner 11/14 (79%)
Aliyah Dunn 8/8 (100%)
Jamie Hume 2/4 (50%)
MVP: Monica Falkner
NZ Men: 73
NZ Under 21s: 44
Shooting Stats - Silver Ferns:
Junior Levi 47/52 (91%)
Quintin Gerber 11/13 (85%)
Dan Jefferies 9/13 (69%)
Cameron Powell 3/4 (75%)
Ben Smith 3/8 (38%)
Shooting Stats - NZ Under 21s:
Saviour Tui 22/27 (82%)
Khiarna Williams 10/16 (63%)
Hannah Glen 7/10 (70%)
Vika Koloto 3/6 (50%)
Tiana Metuarau 2/5 (40%)
MVP: Jake Schuster