NZ Men repel Silver Ferns to win Cadbury Series title
The NZ Men’s Invitational team absorbed a tenacious challenge from the Silver Ferns before clinching the Cadbury Netball Series decider 66-54 in Auckland on Saturday.
It left the men’s team unbeaten after the four-day series which included a four goal win over the Silver Ferns in group play as they showcased their unique and elusive skillset on the international stage alongside women for the first time.
Playing back-to-back over four days, the re-match presented another challenging opportunity for the Silver Ferns to test their credentials against the versatility, physical presence and athletic capability offered by the men.
There was plenty to enthuse about in regards to the on-court action and the Silver Ferns couldn’t have asked for a better preparation ahead of next month’s Vitality Netball World Cup in Liverpool.
For the second day, Bailey Mes sat out the game after receiving a knock on Thursday.
A riveting match lived up to its billing, neither team giving an inch through an absorbing contest in their quest to gain the ascendancy in a tight tussle.
The men broke the early deadlock, capitalising on Silver Ferns turnovers with 2.18m shooter Junior Levi well positioned close to the post in helping guide his team to a 16-11 advantage at the first break.
The deft feeding of wing attack Cameron Powell from long range threatened to break the game wide open for the men on the resumption but the Silver Ferns defensive trio of Karin Burger, Casey Kopua and Jane Watson provided the impetus for a thrilling comeback.
The athleticism of all three was to the fore in grabbing turnover opportunities which sparked a rejuvenated response from the attack end.
Captain Laura Langman was her usual industrious self, tireless across all areas of the court and ably supported by the growing influence of wing attack Shannon Saunders while shooters Maria Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio showed impressive patience under all sorts of pressure from defensive duo Daniel Rich and Matt Wetere.
Working well together and finding extra space under the hoop, the Silver Ferns shooters excelled, Folau, with a perfect 14 from 14, converting a long-range bomb on the stroke of halftime to leave the men with a tenuous 28-27 lead.
The injection of fresh legs and switch from in-circle defender to goal attack for the talented Wetere, helped turned the tables in the men’s favour during the third quarter. Squeezing the Silver Ferns attacking momentum handed the men extra opportunities which they took full advantage of.
Te Paea Selby-Rickit, for Ekenasio, Michaela Sokolich-Beatson (Burger) and Phoenix Karaka (Watson) were injected late in the piece as the men headed into the last break with a handy 47-40 lead.
Showing their intent from the outset, an impressive All Stars hit the century mark when overpowering the Fiji Pearls 103-29 to seal third spot in the series.
After skipping out to an early 8-1 lead, the All Stars never looked back. The defensive end of Claire Kersten, Samantha Sinclair, Kayla Cullen and Sulu Fitzpatrick provided a vice-like grip over their opponents to effectively close down the Pearls’ attacking options.
A seamless through-court transition provided plenty of opportunity for shooters Maia Wilson and Aliyah Dunn as the All Stars hit the first break on a 10-goal streak and in control when leading 25-6.
Shifting impressive playmaker Unaisi Rauluni from goal attack to wing attack on the resumption paid dividends for Fiji with teenaged shooter Laisani Waqa showing her scoring ability with more opportunities.
However, the Pearls could not halt a strong finish from the All Stars, Dunn finishing her stint at goal shoot with 34 goals from 36 attempts to help steer her team to a 49-18 lead at halftime.
The All Stars did not miss a beat after fresh legs in the form of five changes in personnel were introduced for the second half, the home side leaving a fatiguing Fiji with few answers as they delivered an emphatic 30-5 third stanza and with it a handsome 79-23 lead at the last break.
Shooter Ellie Bird left her mark in an influential second half when potting 40 goals from 43 attempts.