Netball: Championship lessons pay off for the Ferns

By Dana Johannsen

Team that used to fold in final quarter benefits from players who faced intensity of transtasman league

Cathrine Latu may play tomorrow as the Ferns' coach enjoys the ability to make changes. Photo / Natalie Slade
Cathrine Latu may play tomorrow as the Ferns' coach enjoys the ability to make changes. Photo / Natalie Slade

Lessons learned in the transtasman league are starting to pay off in the international arena for the Silver Ferns.

The New Zealand side have the Constellation Cup series already sewn up heading in to tomorrow's final test in Christchurch, after edging out Australia in two heart-stopping finishes.

In seasons past, the Ferns' frailties have been exposed in the pressure-fuelled final stages of test matches. But this year under Waimarama Taumaunu they've displayed a harder edge and have managed to withstand Australia's desperate fight-backs.

Taumaunu believes her side's more assured, composed performances down the stretch are a result of being exposed to that red-hot intensity in the ANZ Championship.

"I think the experiences the Mystics and Magic in particular bring out of the ANZ and those close games that they played in there have been great.

"So those senior players have brought those experiences and learnings into this team. And our young ones are learning from them by playing beside them," she said.

Midcourter Laura Langman, who has taken over the captaincy reins in the opening two tests in the absence of Casey Williams, believes the team have developed the mental skills to cope with the pressure.

"I think we've been in these situations a lot of times before, it's about time we learned from them," said Langman.

Many would argue that the Ferns should never have found themselves under pressure late in the second test, having held a 12-goal lead at halftime.

Now they have shown they can absorb "phenomenal pressure", Langman said the next challenge was to build a lead and maintain it.

But that's not necessarily the key objective for the Ferns tomorrow.

With the series now wrapped up, Taumaunu has the luxury of being able to expose other lines to the Australian challenge, having used the same seven for the first two tests.

Shooters Cathrine Latu and Jodi Brown may get a run, although it's unlikely the pair will be used together, while young defender Kayla Cullen is expected to make an appearance in the defensive line.

But Taumaunu stressed they are mindful they are up against "a very good Australian team", so there won't be wholesale changes.

"We've had two wins but by two and one goals, so we're not going to suddenly throw the baby out with the bathwater.

"But we'll certainly look to make some changes and give people the experience they need in this atmosphere, but also do it in a way that's helpful to their long-term development," she said.

Taumaunu's counterpart Lisa Alexander, on the other hand, is hoping to be able to put on a more settled line-up tomorrow after making some confusing selections for the first two tests.

"Ideally, I'd love to put seven out on the court on Sunday and have a win, a big win," she said.

The line-up that ran out the second half of Thursday's one-goal loss have pushed their case for a starting spot, which could see veterans Catherine Cox, Mo'onia Gerrard and Natalie von Bertouch benched for the final test in favour of Caitlin Bassett, Renae Hallinan and Madison Browne.

Hallinan, a specialist wing defence, didn't even make Lisa Alexander's original squad of 15, only joining the team as a late injury replacement for rookie Ashleigh Brazill. She was then elevated to the game-day 12 for the second test, making a strong impact when she was introduced at halftime.

The smaller, more zippy midcourt used in the second half found easier passage through New Zealand's zone defence.

Von Bertouch, the Australian captain, had a heavily strapped calf on Thursday night, but she said that wasn't the reason for her benching.

"I wasn't putting the performance out there that's required and I got replaced - and that's just what happens in sport. I think Kim Green went in to centre and did a great job, Renae Hallinan also did a fantastic job.

"And that's what sport is, you grow from every experience, and if I get an opportunity in this last test, then that's what I'll do," she said.

The Diamonds will have no option but to change up their defensive partnership for the final test with Julie Corletto ruled out for the rest of the international season.

The new Mystics signing, who has been dogged by knee injuries in her 35-test career, has returned to Melbourne to undergo a right knee arthroscopy.

Rebecca Bulley is likely to return to the game-day 12 in place of Corletto for the final test.

Constellation Cup

Test 3, Silver Ferns v Australia
Tomorrow, 7.40pm

CBS Arena, Christchurch

Game 1 (Melbourne): Silver Ferns 54-52 Australia

Game 2 (Auckland): Silver Ferns 50-49 Australia

- NZ Herald

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