Courageous Silver Ferns fightback not enough to deny Diamonds
Despite a stirring second half comeback, the Silver Ferns were left to rue a slow start after Australia went on to win the Constellation Cup decider 53-46 in Perth on Sunday.
Both teams won two tests apiece in the four-Test series, the Diamonds hanging on to the Constellation Cup courtesy of a superior shooting percentage. For the world champion Silver Ferns, it was their best result in the series since 2015 which was also a drawn series.
Seemingly down and out when trailing by as much as 16 during the second quarter, the Silver Ferns produced a gallant second half revival, closing to within four down the home stretch but Australia weathered the storm to take the spoils.
Lining up in her 150th Test match, just the second Silver Fern to notch the milestone behind Laura Langman, Maria Folau started at goal attack for the first time in the series where she paired with Bailey Mes under the hoop.
Under intense scrutiny, the sharp shooter was at her mercurial best throughout with her uncanny accuracy and long-range success in returning 23 goals from 25 attempts.
Ultimately, the Silver Ferns were undone by a rampant first half from the home side, and while making strong inroads during a much-improved second half, a fairy-tale finish proved out of reach.
“This has been a fantastic tour and overall, a sensational year for the Silver Ferns to think where we’ve come from to where we’ve arrived,” captain Langman said afterwards.
“To think what our new benchmark is, is so exciting for those of our team that get to go forward.”
Australia had an unchanged starting line-up from the previous test which included captain Caitlin Bassett, in her 100th appearance for the Diamonds, in her home city, pairing with the accurate Gretel Tippett in home side’s shooting circle.
Australia were quick to set the tone, following a similar trend to the previous test, when they jumped out of the blocks with effective efficiency. Play swung erratically each way in the early stages before the home side gained the upper hand.
With less opportunities, the Silver Ferns were left chasing. Shooter Ameliaranne Ekenasio was injected in the closing stages of a high-scoring first stanza, the Diamonds riding high when leading 16-7.
Shannon Saunders took over at wing attack from Gina Crampton on the resumption, the Silver Ferns looking to resurrect their fortunes with little luck as they struggled to stem the onslaught.
Folau was a constant positive with her ability to convert opportunities but the ball speed and connections on attack from the Diamonds, where centurion Bassett was a standout with her volume and accuracy, left the visitors with a mountain to climb when trailing 31-18 at the main break.
The Silver Ferns opened the third stanza with a bang, producing a bigger defensive effort while Folau and Ekenasio enjoyed increased opportunities under the hoop. With a 7-1 start, the New Zealanders got themselves back into the contest as they chipped away at the deficit.
Karin Burger, Phoenix Karaka, who replaced Jane Watson at goalkeeper late in the half, and Katrina Rore picked off timely turnovers for the Silver Ferns and after trailing by 13 at halftime, the team showed plenty of character to win the stanza by four goals.
In her last test before heading into retirement, Caitlin Thwaites steadied the ship for Australia who headed into the last break well-placed when leading 41-32.