Australia Diamonds 62 defeated Silver Ferns 47 (15-11, 16-11, 15-16, 16-9)
For their first match on home turf after 1088 days, the Diamonds put all the elements of their best game together, and came up with a convincing win 62 – 47.
While Diamonds fans had been despairing, and Silver Ferns fans celebrating the 2-0 scoreline after the New Zealand leg of the Constellation Cup, Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua was not so sanguine that her team could continue to dominate their opponents. “We were expecting it; every day we were talking about it,” she observed of the Australian team’s legendary physicality, noticeably inconsistent in games 1 and 2.
The depth of the Diamonds squad enabled them to make significant positional changes for Game 3 of the series. With Sunday Aryang unable to continue following a slight calf strain, Jo Weston was called up to goal defence, having continued her squad training while the team was away. Sophie Garbin had her first ever game start for Australia at GS, as a consequence of strong performances at training.
Both of them did more than merely seamlessly slotting into the lineup: they had a critical impact on the defence and attack end, contributing to much quicker and more dynamic team play. In contrast, New Zealand was without wing attack players Gina Crampton, Shannon Saunders and Peta Toeava. Taurua acknowledged that her squad is building midcourt depth through relative newcomers such as Maddy Gordon, who started there instead.
Before an appreciative and at times raucously un-Melbourne like crowd, the Diamonds commenced the game with purpose, winning turnovers on four of New Zealand’s first eight centre passes. Weston and Courtney Bruce, in her more accustomed goal keeper position, were double-teaming dominant goal shooter Grace Nweke with intent, and doing everything possible to draw the umpires’ attention to potential offensive contacts with close body work and vigorous challenging for position at the post.
Taurua described the physical marking as the “ferocity” that is to be expected of Australian teams; she observed that the Silver Ferns camp had been a little surprised that it had not emerged consistently yet in the series.
Australian coach Stacey Marinkovich had a different perspective. “I don’t think we physically attack the body, I think we got into good position to attack the ball,“ she said after the game.
“In that, you’re putting yourself into a contest. They’re going for the ball as well, but I thought we were putting ourselves at good angles to be able to contest. When you do that it can become a little bit more brutal. But we were in good position and we held strong. You’ve got to be able to build that defensive pressure, and we did that consistently.”
In fact, it was New Zealand who finished the game with a higher number of 49 contact penalties, while the Australians had a relatively modest count of 40.
It is easy to identify Weston as the instigator of the closer defensive attention in this match. “Jo played her way; it’s where the tone is set,” Marinkovich observed. “She’s close marking, she likes to put the pressure on and that brings out the strengths of the people around her. We don’t try and change her game too much.”
Backing her up was Jamie Lee-Price at wing defence, who was quietly effective at mirroring her opponent’s lead, pressuring their feeds and staying in play. “It was a great opportunity to see what our backline can do in that combination; it hasn’t been tested for quite a while,” Marinkovich said.
The close marking was balanced at both ends of the court. Australia’s midcourt players in particular were breaking holds regularly to make clear leads, while goal Steph Wood and Garbin had to draw on a variety of strategies to present for the ball. Against a rotation of Silver Ferns defenders, Australia’s attack end put on a display to rival the joys of a moving circle, with a dizzying rotation of passing outside the circle until a clear path to a lead or hold from Garbin opened up in front of the feeders.
Key to this speedy ball movement was Wood’s leadership at goal attack: she tirelessly presented for outlet passes in front of the body contests at post, and relieved pressure with accurate long-range shooting to demonstrate her admirable fitness. At 28 goals from 35 attempts for the match, she had only six goals less than Garbin’s 34 from 38. This balance of shooting responsibilities meant that the Silver Ferns defenders were often caught out double-teaming Garbin, with no gains.
Australia put the pressure on at the start of each of the first and second quarters establishing five-goal leads within the first five minutes of each quarter. When the game score blew out to 23-14 in favour of the Diamonds halfway through the second quarter, Taurua substituted a tiring Ameliaranne Ekanasio for Te Paea Selby-Rickit at goal attack, and Kimiora Poi at wing attack.
It took some time for these positional changes to take effect. “When we see players being substituted, we get a sense that they are trying to change things up, and that is a win for you,” said Kate Moloney after the game. “The girls who had those changes on them did a really good job of that.”
New Zealand in fact won the third quarter 16-15, causing lapses in the unchanged Australian attack end at the seven-minute mark, and converting two quick turnovers won through an offensive contact and a bad pass to Garbin. Without the benefit of timeouts, it was fascinating to see the Australian attacking players quickly adjust themselves on court: they shortened their passes, moved the ball through the central corridor with give-and-go speed, and introduce a new lead to post starting from the circle edge rather than the back line.
New Zealand had opportunities to pull back Australia’s lead, but the consistent close marking meant that New Zealand’s attackers could not execute under pressure: their passing slowed, feeds were coming from longer distances in the goal third that Bruce and Weston were able to read, and the timing of leads to the ball was disrupted.
Captain Liz Watson had a valuable improvement in form, after a challenging week managing team dynamics and media duties in the wake of recent controversy. “Lizzie’s a special player,” says her admiring teammate Kate Moloney. “She leads by example in everything she does. We all just want to be out there and backing her.”
Watson’s 57 feeds and 28 goal assists are stunning statistics, but it was her understanding of Garbin’s hold and recognising the space to pass into the circle that was most memorable aspect of her game. Superlative timing and stunning ball speed made her passing a joy to watch, and with only six turnovers in the match, her two New Zealand opponents Kate Heffernen and Kayla Johnson were able to effect only minimal disruption.
This is not to say that the New Zealand defence was lacking: it involved close marking, and the Australians had to work carefully together to see each other and move the ball around before a feed to the circle. But as Taurua observed, one-on-one defence is not New Zealand’s strength.
“We didn’t shut the attack down from the start at the centre pass,” she reflected. “Our defenders got caught apart, which doesn’t help the backs.” Often on leads, the Ferns players were with their opponent for the first second, but needed to keep driving through to stop the pass. Next match, expect a resolute return to the New Zealand zone defence, playing space not opponents: “We need to come back to what we know well, and use more mobility,” said Taurua with determination.
Scoring over 60 goals in a match demonstrated the Diamonds playing at their pace, and this was one of the things that pleased Marinkovich most about the win. “You just saw the brand that we want to play,” she said proudly.
Moloney agreed that the team had learned a lot from the last two games, and had stripped back their approach to “the Diamonds way”. But this win generally is part of a long-term vision for the current playing group. “We’re halfway there with the Commonwealth Games, we’ve still got a World Cup to chase,” promised Marinkovich. “It’s going to be a build – we need to build depth in the squad, and we’re continuing to work through ‘how’.
“The only way to understand New Zealand is to get players out there on court against them.”
NETFIT NETBALL PLAY OF THE DAY – SIDELINE THROW INS
With the strong defence in this match, there were a lot of sideline or baseline throw-ins. Each team had set structures dependant on where the ball was coming from. Utilising the opportunity to reset and really drive your attack is key to an effective sideline throw-in. A great example comes just five a half minutes before the end of the match. Australian captain Liz Watson took the throw-in as it was in their goal third. Centre Kate Moloney and goal attack Steph Wood effectively used their positioning to open up acres of space for Wood to drive around the back and draw defence for shooter Sophie Garbin to get close to the post.
The below video from NETFIT Netball gives a simple example of a sideline throw-in structure which you could teach your junior netballers. For more great video content and coaching tips, download the NETFIT Netball app.
Garbin 34/38 (89%)
Wood 28/35 (80%)
TOTAL 62/73 (85%)
Nweke 30/31 (97%)
Selby-Rickit 7/7 (100%)
Ekenasio 6/7 (86%)
Wilson 4/4 (100%)
TOTAL 47/49 (96%)
MVP: Liz Watson