Silver Ferns nail thriller to win Cadbury Netball Series
Preparations for the Silver Ferns’ Commonwealth Games took another stride forward as the side delivered the Cadbury Netball Series by holding their nerve in a thrilling 59-58 victory over Aotearoa Men.
Just 24 hours earlier the Ferns had beaten the men by 11 goals, but the intensity lifted a notch in the second match-up at TSB Arena in Wellington on Monday night, with the two teams going down to the wire to find the winner.
The Ferns talked plenty about the grind needed and it took until the final centre pass for their defensive pressure to reap the rewards as they forced the men into an error, giving them the one-goal win and the series.
After a patchy first-up performance, the Ferns applied more polish to their patterns on court but with Aotearoa Men moving away from the more aerial play, the chance to pick up ball on defence was limited and the world champions were unable to shake clear of their opponent in another tense encounter.
Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua went for a similar line which started Sunday night’s match, the only change coming in the shooting circle with Grace Nweke earning her first start in the black dress and teaming up with Maia Wilson who slipped in at goal attack.
And the seven on court brought an early smile to the face of the head coach with a better start in all areas.
Shooting accuracy following the first match was a key focus heading into Monday’s game having returned their lowest percentage since 2014, and the Ferns delivered with 82 per cent success in the circle – led again by Nweke but who was well supported by Wilson and Tiana Metuarau.
The Ferns also smothered the men with their through court defence and there was a marked improvement with their transition onto attack with any turnover ball.
But it was the speed in which the midcourt, in particular from the hands of captain Gina Crampton, could deliver ball into Nweke which stood out in the opening spell as the women edged ahead 17-13 at quarter time.
Aotearoa Men made one change heading into the second stanza with Junior Tana making an appearance at wing attack and they started strongly, outscoring the Ferns 5-2 in a scrappy period of play after the whistle.
Wing defence Tyra Lauagiagi was again a livewire for the men’s team with her niggling play around the circle and her direct delivery into the shooting circle.
The men hustled on defence – led by Victor Godsmark-White – and showed patience on attack with Tana, Daniel Jefferies and Nick Grimmer combining well up front to find their shooting rock in Jay Geldard who finished with a faultless 44 goals from as many attempts in an MVP performance.
A swing in momentum in the second spell, which Aotearoa Men won 16-11, forced the Ferns into changes after the main break as Metuarau made her return from injury to replace Wilson at goal attack while Crampton made way for Shannon Saunders at wing attack.
An early run from the men was pulled in by the Ferns and the arm-wrestle for superiority on the scoreboard continued deep into the third quarter.
Both sides lifted in intensity, but neither was able to break the deadlock, the quarter time whistles seeing the Ferns edging ahead for a 46-45 lead going into the decisive spell.