Netball: Ferns in unknown territory

By Dana Johannsen

Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

The Silver Ferns admit they don't quite know what to expect from an extensively reworked Australian line-up in tonight's opening test in Palmerston North.

The New Zealand side meet their transtasman rivals in the first of two tests as part of their build-up to next month's world championships in Singapore.

The Diamonds dozen are a vastly different unit to that which the Ferns met in last year's Commonwealth Games final, with Norma Plummer making five changes to her squad.

Two of those changes were enforced with the loss of captain Sharelle McMahon and midcourter Lauren Nourse to season-ending injuries, the rest were a result of indifferent form or a lack of versatility.

Established stars such as Susan Pratley, Renae Hallinan and Rebecca Bulley were overlooked in favour of the more in-form players Erin Bell, Chelsea Pitman and Sharni Layton, all of whom are uncapped.

It was a bold move by Plummer, particularly given the limited time she has to get her new combinations firing before the world championships.

But Australian captain Natalie von Bertouch said the revamp forces her side to change their game plan from previous seasons, making them more of an unknown quantity.

"Because of the quick lead-in time we had to pick the people in form," said von Bertouch.

"We've had a similar style of play for the last few years, but I think with the team we've selected we can really mix things up and change things around. So we're confident if something is getting beaten we've got an answer for that."

Silver Ferns assistant coach Waimarama Taumaunu said the variety of options Australia have at their disposal, particularly in the attack end, has forced the defensive end to revisit strategies.

"They're much less predictable," she said of the Australian line-up.

"We've certainly re-looked at [our defensive strategies], but until we see what they put out there, we're guessing."

"It's just a case of thinking about plan B, plan C and plan D and thinking about what the options may be and dealing with those."

But with a talented defence line led by captain Casey Williams and ably supported by Leana de Bruin, Anna Scarlett and Katrina Grant, Taumaunu is backing her charges to adapt to any approach the Australians take - whether that be the traditional fast-moving, rotating circle, or the aerial option provided by newcomer Caitlin Bassett.

However, the Ferns defensive line may not be at full strength tonight with Williams in doubt after picking up a slight calf strain in camp this week.

Silver Ferns coach Ruth Aitken said they will leave it till today to call on the star defender's availability, but was wary of pushing Williams too soon.

"We'll give her a run in the morning and see how's she's going as to whether or not she's available," Aitken said.

The Australians likewise have an imposing looking defensive end, with Plummer stacking her line with five defenders relying on Layton, Mo'onia Gerrard and Julie Corletto to cover the wing defence - goal defence slide and adding two specialist goal-keeps in Laura Geitz and Susan Fuhrmann.

With both sides boasting strong defensive ends, tonight's battle and indeed future matches could well come down to how well the shooters can absorb the pressure.

But Taumaunu said the pressure shouldn't rest entirely on the shooters.

"Our shooters are looking very accurate, and that has been a feature of the New Zealand shooting through the ANZ, so I think it is about making sure we make the most of the accuracy we have in this group and that we deliver quality ball.

"So potentially the strength of the circle defence actually puts more pressure on the midcourt."

The young, up and coming talent of both countries will be on display in tonight's curtain raiser, with the New Zealand under-21 side taking on their Australian counterparts.

The New Zealand juniors scored a significant 52-44 win over Australia in their first meeting in Porirua on Tuesday and have an opportunity to seal the series tonight.

SILVER FERNS V AUSTRALIA

TONIGHT, 7.35PM (LIVE SKY SPORT 1)
Arena Manawatu, Palmerston North


PREVIOUS FIVE MEETINGS

2010
October 14: New Zealand 66 Australia 64
(Commonwealth Games final)
September 5: Australia 46 New Zealand 40
September 2: New Zealand 59 Australia 40
August 29: Australia 48 New Zealand 43

2009
September 23: New Zealand 52 Australia 36

- NZ Herald

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