Silver Ferns Defeated Aotearoa Men 58-47 In Series Opener
A stand-out performance from Grace Nweke changed the fortunes for the Silver Ferns, setting up a 58-47 win over Aotearoa Men in a compelling first match of the Cadbury Netball Series.
Slow out of the blocks, the Silver Ferns needed the presence of Nweke, who landed 39 from 44 attempts at goal, to come from behind and beat a determined men’s side at TSB Arena in Wellington on Sunday night.
Combinations, consolidation of strategies and communication were key areas of focus for Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua heading into the three-match series and she will have found some answers in a match where Aotearoa Men asked early questions of their opponents.
The Ferns head coach opted for experience in the shooting circle with Maia Wilson and Te Paea Selby-Rickit teaming up again and fed by captain Gina Crampton who returned from injury to pick up the wing attack bib.
The absence of wing defence Sam Winders prompted a reshuffle in the midcourt with Maddy Gordon getting a surprise nod at centre and Claire Kersten in defence. Karin Burger and Kelly Jury were given the task of shutting down the tall timber in the men’s shooting circle.
The disrupted build-up for Aotearoa Men, with six Auckland and Waikato-based players unable to join the team for the three-match series, did not hamper their approach as they used all their speed and flair to race out to an early 4-1 lead.
Eriata Vercoe, playing in his first series for Aotearoa, showed his superior vision into the circle and plenty of confidence at wing attack for a direct route into the towering presence of 2.04m shooter Jay Geldard as the men dominated the opening stanza.
Capitalising on the turnovers was an area of frustration for the Ferns during last month’s series against England and it was again an early worry as treasured ball picked off by Jury and Burger was unable to convert at the other end of the court.
Led by the outstanding delivery of Vercoe, the men went on a five-goal run late in the spell to lead 16-9 at the first break.
Unable to lift their accuracy in the opening spell proved costly for both Wilson and Selby-Rickit as the duo was replaced in the second quarter with Nweke and Jamie Hume.
But it was the men who again started strongly as the Ferns struggled to slow the speed of ball through the court.
Nweke’s presence in the shooting circle – safe hands, strong in the air and accurate under the hoop – made an immediate impact for the Ferns as the attackers turned quickly for the fast release to the shooter, closing the gap to two goals with just over five minutes left in the half.
Burger also relished the lift in intensity as she became a nuisance on defence, disrupting the men’s flow on attack in an MVP performance.
Selby-Rickit was injected back into the game as Aotearoa Men also took the opportunity to make personnel changes with the scores locked at 24-24 at halftime.
More changes were made in the Ferns shooting circle with Wilson returning to the court in the goal attack bib to join forces with Nweke, but it was again the men who took charge after the break to open a five-goal advantage.
Kate Heffernan celebrated her first appearance in the black dress when she replaced Kersten at wing defence in the third quarter, the latter moving forward to centre bib.
Jury and Burger consolidated their combination as the match continued, helping the Ferns to a slender 38-37 lead turning into the final spell while Shannon Saunders injected a new dynamic up front, coming on to the wing for the last 15 minutes of play as the Ferns superior fitness started to tell and the buffer blew out to 11 goals.
OFFICIAL RESULTS AND STATS:
Aotearoa Men: 47
Shooting Stats -
Grace Nweke 39/44 (87%)
Maia Wilson 12/21 (57%)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit 5/13 (39%)
Jamie Hume 2/8 (25%)
Shooting Stats -
Jay Geldard 35/36 (97%)
Amosa Faitaua-Nanai 0/0 (0%)
Dan Jefferies 6/7 (86%)
Ben Smith 6/7 (86%)
MVP: Karin Burger