Netball: Silver Ferns need to buck trend against Australia to claim first Constellation Cup win in nine years

By Bridgette Tunnicliffe for RNZ

The Silver Ferns will have to buck more than just one trend if they want to wrest the Constellation Cup off the Australian Diamonds for the first time since 2012.

Over the past seven games between the trans-Tasman rivals, the winner has alternated each game.

It started with the previous Constellation Cup series between the sides in October 2019.

Buoyed by their World Cup success earlier that year, the Silver Ferns beat their foes in the opening game. It was the first time in four years they had achieved back to back victories over Australia and there was a sense it could be the start of a period of domination.

But the Diamonds then struck back in game two, and so the pattern has continued. through a series and a half.

After beating Australia 55-49 last night, New Zealand take a 2-1 lead into the winner-takes-all final in Christchurch on Sunday.

But it's this perpetual arms race between the world's top two ranked sides, that ensures no team ever sits on its laurels.

Silver Ferns' captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio knows Australia will be better in the final test.

"We know if we take one [a win], they are going to come back even hungrier, more physical, more on the body," Ekenasio said.

"They'll go away and do their homework, we'll do our homework as well so we're up for a real big one and we know that it's just how good we prep and how good we mentally prepare for it as well."

The two times the Constellation Cup has been a squared series, the Diamonds have retained, courtesy of a greater goal percentage.

Goal percentage could come into it again in the decider with the Ferns holding a minimal edge.

The Australian Diamonds have to win by two goals to hold on to the Constellation Cup for a ninth straight year.

Ekenasio said the players badly wanted to end the trend that has seen the cup elude them.

"We know all the dates and how long it is since we've had it, yeah it's been a big talking point for quite a long time since we've been prepping for it and we've been prepping for it since last year.

"We do keep it there in the back of our minds but still got to make sure we do our one-percenters, do our job and we know that will get there.

"As a playing group as a management, even everybody across netball in New Zealand is really backing us for this one, so it's not just ours there's a whole lot of people that really want it."

Netball: Silver Ferns need to buck trend against Australia to claim first Constellation Cup win in nine years
Photo credit: Photosport

Pleased coached 

Coach Dame Noeline Taurua said she liked the resolve she saw from her side in Saturday afternoon's win.

"When we got the momentum going we were off but it took a long time to get to that space. In saying that, that's what it's all about so really pleased. The changes and people who came on made a huge impact in whatever position."

Dame Noeline still felt the Silver Ferns' were getting into a bit of strife when they were stagnant.

"Especially at the beginning where we didn't get a lot of momentum. When we do [get] decisive and when we do a lot of prep then we're free and uncontested. And I think that helps us a lot but in saying that there were some things that we probably didn't experience in the first two tests and I think it's great how we adapted."

After losing to the Diamonds in game two, there was a strong emphasis on getting a good start and while the Silver Ferns lost the first half last night, they were still in touch.

"I reckon that was the difference because we know historically we can run in the second half and that's a consistent theme with us. So I think that actually was the difference, we were within cooee of the opposition so when we come out of the changing rooms we were able to lift it up again."

Ekenasio said it was a classic battle.

"It was a really really tough game but I was proud of how we stood up to the fight …it was definitely a very physical game. And I think there were more moments where we stood up to it …took it on rather than getting a bit shocked and pulling out of what we're working to do on court," Ekenasio said.

Kimiora Poi and Shannon Saunders were introduced to the midcourt partway through the game, and Dame Noeline was pleased with the point of difference they brought.

"And sometimes it's easier when you come off the bench …you can see so you know where the gaps are or you know what the opposition are doing," Dame Noeline said.

"Not taking away from the starting seven, you got to have people willing to do the grind and work it until it opens up and I think that definitely happened tonight."

Australian shooter Cara Koenen was kept better in check last night with Ferns' defender Sulu Fitzpatrick working hard to mark her.

Dame Noeline said there were still areas in the shooting circle they could tighten up.

"When they rotate it's really hard and we're quite stationary so I know there's areas that we need to improve on. But she [Fitzpatrick] played the whole game. I don't know if that's the first time she's ever done that against Australia so really proud about that for her."

She was pleased with the effort to restrict the visitors to just 20 goals in the second half and the fact they were able to it convert more turnovers last night.

"I think the other day we were still getting a lot of ball …that's pretty consistent but the difference is taking it down and getting it to the other end and I thought that we did that well."

Maia Wilson has improved with each game across the series and dominated with 41 goals at 95 percent accuracy last night.

The Ferns' will be hoping that particular trend continues and Ekenasio is confident it would.

"This is a really big series for her as well, it's been her first consistent series against Australia, which is tough, it's real tough and she's really shone through. She's holding her own and holding our end up as well. I'm impressed - I'm excited to see what even more she can bring tomorrow and beyond," Ekenasio said. 

Join Newshub for live updates of the Constellation Cup decider from 3:30pm.