Netball: Finale flair a must for erratic Ferns

By Dana Johannsen

Catherine Latu has struggled against Australia. Photo / Getty Images
Catherine Latu has struggled against Australia. Photo / Getty Images

With their performance tracker trending in the wrong direction, finishing off on a high on Thursday is essential for the Silver Ferns.

Since their historic Constellation Cup win over Australia, their form has taken a slide over the Quad Series.

There were mitigating factors such as new personnel being brought in for the Australian leg of the tour, and some experimentation with different lines, but the Ferns have not looked as clinical or composed.

Sunday's 39-goal win over South Africa marked a return to the upward curve as the Ferns build towards their showdown against the Diamonds.

Despite their fluctuating Quad Series form - the nadir being a 20-goal loss to Australia in Sydney - Kiwi coach Waimarama Taumaunu does not believe her side have regressed significantly.

"We had a very settled, very senior line through the Constellation Cup that I didn't really disrupt and I haven't done that through this [series], so it is hard to get a gauge," she said.

Thursday night should give her that gauge. With midcourter Camilla Lees returning for the New Zealand leg of the tour and captain Casey Williams close to hitting top speed again, Taumaunu has her full complement of players to select from.

If her top line-up can't demonstrate a huge turnaround from the Ferns' last outing against Australia, it will be a very long summer of contemplation for Ferns management.

The line-up used over the first half against South Africa on Sunday night is the likely seven to take the court in Hamilton, with the only area where the selections are not straight-forward being the defensive end.

Given Anna Harrison has struggled against 1.68m midcourter Madison Browne's speed, it is likely Kayla Cullen will play wing defence, while Williams has shown enough progress with her knee recovery to warrant her first start against Australia since last year's world championships.

"There were two lines we tried [against South Africa] defensively and I was having a good look at both - I'm probably not absolutely decided which way we are going to go, but very pleased we have variety available," said Taumaunu.

There is no such luxury of choice in the attack end as the recent experimenting with different lines failed to yield any genuine new options against the world champions.
Australian coach Lisa Alexander hasn't had the same problems blending new combinations with her stars.

She has also used the series to build depth in her squad and try new combinations, and the Diamonds have managed to do this much more successfully, remaining just as consistent whether it be their top line-up on the court or their second-stringers.

The only concern for Alexander heading into Thursday's finale is the fitness of her two leaders - Natalie von Bertouch and Catherine Cox.

Both were very sore after Sunday's bruising clash against England.

- NZ Herald

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