The Silver Ferns will be meeting Uganda in their second match of the series at 3am on Monday, January 22, NZ time.
Showcasing their depth of talent, Australia finished with a flourish to close out a 63-50 win over the Silver Ferns in the opening match of the Vitality Netball Nations Cup in London on Saturday.
The Silver Ferns opened their 2024 international campaign with a young new-look team to herald the start of a new four-year cycle with a solid outing against the world champions.
Showing glimpses of the potential on hand, the Silver Ferns will be better for the experience but moments of loose play and untimely lapses proved crucial.
Surging back strongly after a fine third quarter, the Silver Ferns were well in the hunt when trailing by five heading into the home straight but were unable to maintain the momentum against a fast-finishing Australia who showed their class with a dominant finish.
There were promising signs for the Silver Ferns with shooter Gace Nweke having a fine return when missing just one of her 42 shots at goal while continuing to build her new attacking partnerships with Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, Maddy Gordon, Whiteny Souness and Georgia Heffernan.
“It was disappointing how that last quarter ended but overall, it was not too bad,” says Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua.
“Our ability, once again, to hold right through, our ability not to turn over ball and probably our fitness levels let us down a bit but it’s a start, we know where we’re at, so know the gaps and what we need to improve on.”
Slotting in at goal attack, Georgia Heffernan became Silver Fern #185 when making her debut against the most challenging of opponents. She joined twin sister Kate (wing defence) in a rare family milestone in international netball.
After an even start, a mid-quarter surge after some loose play from the Silver Ferns pushed the Diamonds out to a handy lead on the back of seven unanswered goals.
With their backs to the wall, a lively midcourt revival where Reuelu-Buchanan and Gordon found their target of Nweke with more accuracy and consistency, the Silver Ferns made sure they kept the margin in check.
Australian defender Courtney Bruce was a constant thorn for the Silver Ferns as the Diamonds surged out to a 14-9 first quarter lead.
Overcoming the early rustiness, both teams produced an entertaining start to the second quarter with a goal-for-goal start.
Midcourt captain Liz Watson controlled proceedings on attack for the Diamonds while the Silver Ferns responded with some strong passages with their quick ball movement and ball release. Defenders Kelly Jury and Karin Burger had their moments in slowing the Australian shooters while staying within striking distance.
Souness took over from Reuelu-Buchanan late in the piece, the speedy midcourter adding a pinpoint service to the accurate Nweke under the hoop as the Silver Ferns kept the Australians honest.
After a tough introduction, Georgia Heffernan found her feet to source good connections to Nweke, the New Zealanders showing better accuracy on the scoring sheet but it was Australia with more attempts who took a 29-22 lead into the halftime break. Nweke finished the first half with a perfect 18 from 18.
Continuing to show improving connections and accuracy, the Silver Ferns made the best of starts on the resumption while going on to produce their most productive 15 minutes of the match.
Australia made multiple changes through the quarter but the Silver Ferns were able to successfully chip away at the deficit. Souness added a point of difference on attack for the Silver Ferns with her speed and distribution skills while Georgia Heffernan continued to grow in confidence through her building rapport with Nweke.
A buzzer time goal from Nweke helped the Silver Ferns win the third stanza and trim Australia’s lead to 44-39 at the final turn.
The Silver Ferns will meet Uganda in their second match of the series at 3am on Monday (NZ time).
Official Result and Stats:
Silver Ferns: 50
Shooting Stats – Silver Ferns:
Grace Nweke 41/42 (98%)
Georgia Heffernan 9/11 (82%)
Shooting Stats – Australia:
Cara Koenen 23/26 (89%)
Sophie Garbin 17/18 (94%)
Kiera Austin 16/21 (76%)
Sophie Dwyer 7/8 (88%)