The Australian Diamonds have opened their 2017 season with a victory over rivals the New Zealand Silver Ferns, with Caitlyn Nevins becoming the 171st player to represent Australia.
It was a fast and furious start to the game, with the Diamonds netting four unanswered goals after the first whistle. “Heading out there, we were aiming to win every single quarter,” said vice captain Caitlin Thwaites. “We are always about trying to get a really strong start. We don’t want to put ourselves in a bad situation and be in chase mode for the rest of the game.”
Thwaites was reunited with her former NSW Swifts teammate Susan Pettitt in the goal circle, the pair working seamlessly together from the opening centre pass. Pettitt was recognised for her consistent effort, named most valuable player of the match.
“Having built that combination over the last three or so years, it was really nice to click back into each other’s game and the way that we play with each other. I think it was a real positive,” explained Thwaites.
It was eight goals to two goals halfway through the opening quarter, before the Ferns were able to match the Diamonds scoring efforts. The Diamonds went into the first break leading 16 goals to 10.
Coach Lisa Alexander praised her team’s defensive efforts, after putting out a challenge to the playing group.
“I put the challenge out to the whole team; there was no reason why we couldn’t turn over ball in the centre passes,” she said. “There was real hunger off the first centre pass. It was terrific to see and we have to continue to build on that full team defensive effort.”
Neither coach opted to make any changes into the second quarter, with the Diamonds holding on to their lead, outscoring the Ferns 14-13 to go into the main break with the advantage 30 – 23. They led by as much as ten goals during the second term.
New Zealand introduced Jane Watson to the game in the third quarter at goal keeper, whilst the Australian side remained unchanged. Thwaites and Petttitt shared the shooting load, scoring eight and seven goals respectively.
The opening half of the final quarter saw an uncharacteristic slow start from the Diamonds, scoring just two goals to the Ferns’ seven. Coach Lisa Alexander introduced Caitlyn Nevins to the game at wing attack, marking a turning point in the final term.
“Nevins was fresh, she came on and created that clear space for us,” explained Alexander. “Paige had done a mighty job throughout the game, but we needed to change it up. We’ve got the depth, we had the confidence, and we knew that Nevins had done the work at training. For her to go into that situation and just have such a cool, calm head, it was sensational.”
The Diamonds shift their attention to the second test of the Netball Quad Series, where they will face South Africa in front of their home crowd in Durban.
According to Alexander, despite a different style of play in their opponent, preparations will be similar.
“South Africa will be a different opponent, as they won’t put the zone on quite as much as New Zealand. Tonight we were really were concentrating on our own game, and we will do so in preparation for our next test match,” she said.
"We will continue to work on our connections in attack and in defense look at closing down a bit more space with that really hard one-on-one and getting more ball.”
OFFICIAL RESULTS & STATISTICS
AUSTRALIAN DIAMONDS (57) defeated NEW ZEALAND SILVER FERNS (50)
Australian Diamonds shooting statistics
Susan Pettitt 22/26 (85%)
Caitlin Thwaites 35/39 (90%)
New Zealand Silver Ferns shooting statistics
Bailey Mes 25/26 (96%)
Maria Tutaia 25/32 (78%)
Australia starting seven - GS: Caitlin Thwaites, GA: Susan Pettitt, WA: Paige Hadley C: Kim Ravaillion, WD: Gabi Simpson, GD: April Brandley, GK: Sharni Layton
New Zealand starting seven – GS: Bailey Mes, GA: Maria Tutaia, WA: Grace Rasmussen, C: Shannon Francois, WD: Sam Sinclair, GD: Katrina Grant, GK: Anna Harrison
Match MVP: Susan Pettitt
photos Janos Schmidt