Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Maria Tutaia's Silver Ferns spot under threat from Ameliaranne Ekenasio

Ameliaranne Ekenasio has delivered a series of stand-out performances over the past week. Photo / Getty.
Ameliaranne Ekenasio has delivered a series of stand-out performances over the past week. Photo / Getty.

Maria Tutaia's position in the Silver Ferns starting line-up has come under threat after a breakthrough series from Ameliaranne Ekenasio.

Tutaia was rested from last week's Quad Series while she continues to nurse a foot injury that hampered her for much of the ANZ Championship season.

It is expected the star goal attack will also be unavailable for next week's three test series against Jamaica, but it is hoped she will be back in action for the Constellation Cup series against Australia, beginning in Sydney on October 5.

It is no longer a foregone conclusion that Tutaia will waltz straight back into the starting seven when she does return however, after Ekenasio delivered a series of stand-out performances over the past week.

The Australian-born shooter, who had just four caps to her name heading into the series, shone in the goal attack role, forming a strong partnership with Bailey Mes.

Ekenasio, who only played her first full game for New Zealand in last week's second Quad Series clash against South Africa, was particularly impressive in a losing effort in Sunday's title decider against Australia.

With Mes hounded under the goal by Australian defender Sharni Layton, Ekenasio stepped up to shoulder most of the shooting load, netting 32 of her 37 shots at goal - many of them pearlers long range.

New Zealand coach coach Janine Southby said Ekenasio's performances across the course of the series, but particularly against a powerful Australian defence, was one of the key positives of the campaign.

"I think she's had a great series and the confidence she is taking from each game has been amazing," said Southby.

"She's never had a full game against Australia, and probably got a wee bit tired towards the end. But she carried a fair load of the shooting tonight and still kept turning and shooting and was working really hard to make herself available. So I know she'll take some confidence out of that, but she'll have some work-ons to do as well."

Ekenasio's performance also drew praise from Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander, who continues to rue Netball Australia letting the talented shooter getting away. Ekenasio, who was born in Queensland but of Ngapuhi heritage, was snaffled up by former Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu, who learned of the nerveless shooter's eligibility after she signed for the Pulse in 2014.

"Of course [we would love to see her in the green and gold], she's a Queenslander and an Australian Institute of Sport graduate. But we're so pleased of her that's she been able to take this opportunity. I applaud her, and she was a thorn in our side today."

If Tutaia can return to the sort of form she showed at last year's World Cup when is back to full fitness, it raises a tantalising prospect for the New Zealand coaching staff.

Having two in-form long-range shooting specialists will give Southby the option using them interchangeably, partially nullifying Australia's defensive strategy of wearing down their opponent across the course of a match.

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