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Nweke presence adds encouraging progress for Silver Ferns

Trailing 2-0 in the four-Test series, the Silver Ferns turn their attention to home court advantage after losing 55-46 to Australia in the second Constellation Cup match in Brisbane on Sunday.

Following on the heels of Thursday’s 10-goal loss, the Silver Ferns welcomed back influential shooter Grace Nweke for her first game time since sustaining a knee injury at the Netball World Cup.

Still on restricted minutes, Nweke featured in the second and fourth quarters, coincidentally the Silver Ferns best of the match, with both being drawn.

The first and third quarters demonstrated the Silver Ferns youthfulness and the building blocks that are still taking time to establish as new combinations and structures are evolving.

Coach Dame Noeline Taurua tried a variety of personnel and combinations with improvement coming slowly but surely.

We reduced the margin by a goal but we’ve got heaps more to give and we’re really looking forward to getting back to New Zealand,” Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio said.

Australia have really shown how good they are. They’re all class but we have to step up, we have to be able to take it to them. We’ve got two games left, so the series is far from over but we have to hit them right from the start of a match and not leave it until later in the game.”

Both sides made just one change apiece to their starting line-ups of the first test with Karin Burger getting the nod at goal defence for the Silver Ferns and Sunday Aryang slotting in at wing defence for the Diamonds.

Controlled and patient, the Silver Ferns got away to a solid start to stay on level terms with the Diamonds. Rookie shooter Amelia Walmsley was in good touch under the hoop, converting all nine of her first quarter opportunities but untimely lapses from the Silver Ferns handed the early momentum to the hosts.

In a bid to stall Australia’s slick speed on attack, Jane Watson was introduced at goalkeeper late in the stanza. With the Diamonds gaining the upper hand at both ends, a late rally from the Silver Ferns kept them in contact when Australia took a 16-11 lead into the first break.

Nweke made a welcome entrance on the resumption, the presence of the 1.93m shooter having an immediate impact on the Silver Ferns attack line. Scoring her first goal within 30 seconds of her first game back since early in the Netball World Cup, rejuvenated the Silver Ferns and produced an uplifting second stanza.

Nweke’s physical presence under the hoop added cohesion to the Silver Ferns attack line with Mila Reuelu-Buchanan and Maddy Gordon firing precision passes into the tall shooter’s hands. With Burger and Watson hunting relentlessly at the other end, the Silver Ferns created turnover opportunities to close the gap to three.

However, they wasted several opportunities and with Diamonds goal shoot Cara Koenen continuing her impressive form of the first test, Australia wrested back the initiative to complete a drawn second quarter when maintaining a 28-23 lead at halftime.

Walmsley returned for the third quarter, an abrasive and physical 15 minutes, coinciding with the Diamonds turning up the heat across all thirds of the court.

Burger and Watson were busy on defence but the speed of ball from captain Liz Watson and ever-present shooter Koenen ensured the Diamonds delivered a master class in unpicking the Silver Ferns defence line.

At the other end, Australia’s in-circle defenders squeezed the Silver Ferns shooters with their relentless hustle and suffocating presence in helping to stretch the home side’s lead.

Tiana Metuarau took over from Ekenasio under the Silver Ferns’ hoop, Australia enjoying all the momentum when heading to the last turn with a handy 41-32 lead.

The second leg of the Constellation Cup now heads to New Zealand with the third Test being played in Invercargill on Thursday night.