In young defender Kelly Jury the Silver Ferns may finally have found the antidote to the dominance of Australian sharpshooter Caitlin Bassett.
The long anticipated first match-up between the 21-year-old Magic star and the Diamonds skipper took place in yesterday's Quad Series finale, with Jury emerging the clear victor in the individual battle. Jury forced Bassett to the bench nine minutes into the third quarter of the Ferns' stunning 57-47 win over Australia, after keeping the prolific shooter quiet for much of the match.
At 1.92m, Jury gives away just one centimetre in height to Bassett and her sheer presence in the goal circle seemed to upset the rhythm of the Australian attack. Having become accustomed to being able to biff the ball straight into their key strike weapon at the back, the Diamonds were hesitant with their feeding into the shooting circle as they struggled to sight Bassett.
Jury's efforts saw her rewarded with the player of the match honours in what was a brilliant all-round team performance.
Given it was Jury's first international start, first time playing against Australia and first full test match, there are strong signs the Ferns have the makings of a very effective defensive circle.
Silver Ferns skipper Katrina Grant, who partnered Jury on defence yesterday, said she is pleased with the way the combination is coming along.
"It's quite nice to have someone who can match Bassett's height and compete with her in the air - it makes quite a difference. Kelly's young, she's come in and really listened and she has made so much progress over the last six months," said Grant.
"Obviously Kelly and I are totally different players, I'm a bit shorter and more nuggety and can be a bit of a pain, where Kels is nice and tall and can get more of that aerial ball. It was our first proper outing together and hopefully we can lift from here and it not be a one-off."
Grant said the real test for her side will be next month's four-test Constellation Cup series, in which the Ferns will be out to prove yesterday's performance was no fluke.
The Ferns perhaps caught the Australians off-guard yesterday with their defensive intensity and bold attacking gameplan. The Diamonds looked as though they had forgotten how to play against the zone style of defence, with the split in the transtasman league meaning the two sides no longer have regular exposure to one another's styles.
You can bet the Diamonds will be doing their homework ahead of next month's series and it's unlikely we will see their well-drilled attack play that poorly again.
Australian coach Lisa Alexander said her side were prepared for the Ferns' space-marking style of defence, but they did not do what they talked about.
"We played into their hands and we talked about not doing that and unfortunately we did, we know all of our strategies against the zone, we just didn't do it," said Alexander.
The Silver Ferns will prepare for the Constellation Cup with a three-test series against the touring English side beginning in Porirua on Thursday night.