Silver Ferns sizzling start downs Diamonds

A STUNNING finish to the first quarter resulted in the Silver Ferns going one-up over the Diamonds in the opening match of the Constellation Cup, winning by eight goals in Auckland. After trailing by two goals six and a half minutes into the opening term, the Silver Ferns piled on 14 of the last 15 goals for the quarter to open up an 11-goal lead. Though Australia settled after quarter time, the Diamonds were never able to catch up and suffered the 56-48 defeat.

SILVER FERNS 20 | 11 | 11 | 14 (56)
DIAMONDS 9 | 14 | 13 | 12 (48)

The highly anticipated clash between the Silver Ferns and Diamonds – having not faced off in the Commonwealth Games – started as hoped with Grace Nweke and Ameliaranne Ekenasio up one end, and Sunshine Coast Lightning pair Cara Koenen and Steph Wood up the other. Amy Parmenter was handed a Diamonds debut in wing defence, while Courtney Bruce was out in goal defence with Sarah Klau in goal keeper. For the Silver Ferns, Phoenix Karaka – who would go on to win Player of the Match – teamed up with Kelly Jury in the defensive goal circle, while Elisapeta Toeava earned the start at wing attack.

Australia started strongly to piled on eight goals to six in the first six and a half minutes, only to watch Nweke go on a shooting spree and pile on seven consecutive goals without a miss, and 15 goals from 16 attempts for the quarter. The Diamonds only scored one more goal for the quarter as Liz Watson was shut down by Kate Heffernan. Watson had the same amount of goal assists as turnovers in the first term – two – while Heffernan had a deflection and a gain. Toeava had a match-high nine goal assists in the opening quarter, as Wood was the best for the Aussies, having six goal assists and a rebound to go with three goals from five attempts. Klau was trying hard in defence with a gain, an intercept and two deflections.

Australia did manage to settle after that, and though the Silver Ferns lead got out to as much as 14 goals in the second term, the Diamonds cut it back to eight. Kiera Austin came on late in the quarter for Wood, shooting three of four from the moment she stepped on, while earlier Jamie-Lee Price replaced Kate Moloney and youngster Sunday Aryang played out a full quarter in goal defence. Neither team made a change at half-time as the Aussies looked on the verge of getting back into the contest. At one stage they scored seven of nine goals midway through the third term to cut it back to three goals, only for Nweke to respond with three consecutive goals and the Silver Ferns lead by six at the last change.

The Silver Ferns made their only change of the match midway through the final quarter as Kayla Johnson came on for Karaka, while the Aussies brought Sophie Garbin and Wood on to replace Austin and Koenen. Garbin – a late inclusion to the squad – held her own by shooting seven goals from nine attempts. In the end it mattered little as the work of Nweke up one end (40 goals from 42 attempts) and Karaka up the other (five intercepts, six gains and three deflections) were too strong for the Aussies. Toeava (25 goals from 31 attempts) was prolific in wing attack with Ekenasio finishing with 16 goals from 19 attempts and 10 goal assists.

Australia will look to lick its wounds ahead of game two in four days time, with Koenen (21 goals from 22 attempts), Wood (11 from 16, and 14 goal assists) and Price (10 goal assists from 20 feeds, one gain, one intercept and one deflection) all trying hard. Had it not been for the disappointing 10 minutes in the first term, and the Diamonds could well have finished on top, which makes it an intriguing game two at Trustpower Arena on Sunday.

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