Silver Ferns bounce back with thriller in Invercargill
Faced with a must-win scenario, the Silver Ferns kept the Constellation Cup series alive after posting a gritty 56-53 win over the Australian Diamonds in Invercargill on Thursday.
With the stadium re-named the Robyn Broughton Stadium for the occasion, the Silver Ferns and Southland community embraced the opportunity to honour the memory and legacy of the legendary coach who passed away in September.
In a fitting tribute, the sold-out crowd and Silver Ferns put their full energies into paying tribute to Broughton, a much-admired local figure, who carved out a unique record at the helm of the Southern Sting and Steel teams for many years while crowning Invercargill as the stronghold of national netball at the time.
Down 2-0 in the four-match series, twin towers at either end of the Silver Ferns court, shooter Grace Nweke, playing 45 minutes in her continuing comeback from injury, and goalkeeper Kelly Jury were key contributors for the home side.
With little separating the teams statistically, Nweke with 34 goals from 36 attempts, ably backed up by Amelia Walmsley with eight from 10, and Jury’s ability to create pressure while getting the Silver Ferns more defensive gains – two intercepts and nine deflections – effectively proved the difference.
Both sides made multiple personnel and positional changes while trying to break the impasse, each producing two dominant quarters apiece in showcasing another classic chapter in the long-running trans-Tasman rivalry.
“I’m really proud and really stoked with the girls. It was a hard-fought win,” Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio said.
“We felt the emotion leading into the game, and a really big thing for us, is how do we connect with the people who have built the path before us, and that was huge to do this in remembrance of Robbie (Broughton).
“Also just to be back on home soil was a massive lift for us.”
Making an encouraging comeback from injury in the previous test and with two quarters safely negotiated during that match, inspiring shooter Nweke got her first start of the series while Phoenix Karaka got the nod at goal defence in the only two changes to the Silver Ferns starting line.
The Diamonds remained unchanged with impressive young rangy wing defence Sunday Aryang getting her second start of the series.
Making an impression defensively, the Silver Ferns made the brightest of starts, the back three of Kate Heffernan, on her home court, Karaka and Jury slowing Australia’s attacking progress while getting their hands on turnover opportunities.
After forging a four-goal lead, the Silver Ferns could not maintain the impetus. Finding their rhythm while strangling the Silver Ferns in the midcourt, Australia pounced to produce a seven-goal unanswered streak to retake the lead and a 14-10 lead into the first break.
Introduced late in the first quarter, wing attack Whitney Souness, earning her first game-time of the series, made a serious impact with her quick play and foot movement, creating spaces at the front end of the court and adding spark to the Silver Ferns first phase play.
At the other end, Jury’s long lean and ability to disrupt Australia’s shooting momentum turned the tide New Zealand’s way. With Tiana Metuarau taking over at goal attack, the Silver Ferns lifted their intensity levels with a frantic but productive second quarter burst.
Able to knock the Diamonds off their stride resulted in shooter Sophie Garbin being introduced under the hoop and Sarah Klau at goal defence. Missed shots did not help Australia’s cause, the Silver Ferns getting more ball in their hands, nine goals on the trot helping the women in black regain the lead.
Out-scoring the Diamonds 18-10, the Silver Ferns headed to the main break with their noses in front when leading 28-24.
Both sides made multiple changes through a pulsating third quarter, the Diamonds, where centre Jamie-Lee Price and captain Liz Watson took charge on attack, backed up by a run of five goals hauling the visitors back into the lead.
The lively defensive pairing of Karin Burger and Jury helped spur the Silver Ferns back into the contest while Ekenasio and Amelia Walmsley teamed up under the Silver Ferns hoop.
A resilient Australia retained their composure with Garbin providing the shooting accuracy, the Diamonds reversing the trend of the previous quarter to hold a narrow 40-37 lead at the last break but leaving the contest still wide open.
The final match of the Constellation Cup will be played in Auckland, on Monday (4pm, NZT).