Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Maria Tutaia likely to sit out Constellation Cup opener

Maria Tutaia's stint on the sidelines looks set to last a little longer as she works her way back to full fitness. Photo/PHOTOSPORT.
Maria Tutaia's stint on the sidelines looks set to last a little longer as she works her way back to full fitness. Photo/PHOTOSPORT.

Maria Tutaia's spell on the sidelines looks set to continue a little longer, with the star shooter expected to sit out the opening two Constellation Cup tests as she continues to work her way back to full fitness.

The 102-test Silver Fern missed the first half of the international season with bone bruising in her foot, but had recovered enough to be included in an extended squad for this month's four-test series against Australia.

Tutaia today came through her first team training session in over two months as the Ferns hit the court in Sydney ahead of Sunday's opener at Qudos Arena - the venue of last year's World Cup defeat.

She admitted she still has a long way to go before she is back to top speed. As well as re-building her match fitness and confidence, Tutaia has a new-look line-up and new management to get her head around.

"In terms of passing and catching - I was a bit rusty today, I'm not going to lie.

But it's just great to be back in the Silver Ferns environment and getting a feel for how things have been the last two tours," she said.

Still in the early stages of her comeback, Tutaia's training load is being carefully managed, with the star on limited minutes. She said is likely she will be worked into the line-up over the second half of the series.

"I have my goals and what matches I'm being targeted for, but it's highly likely this Sunday [I won't be there]," said Tutaia.

"Even though I am back on court I am still rehabbing because bone bruising really takes about 3-4 months off your feet...but it was really important for me to get back out on court before the end of 2016."

The presence of Tutaia and fellow veteran Anna Harrison, who also sat out last month's Quad Series and three tests against Jamaica, back in the fold has upped the intensity in the New Zealand camp with players now battling not only for court time, but a place in the 12-strong match day team.

Ferns captain Katrina Grant hopes the increased internal competition in the team will provide the extra edge the team needs to break the team's four-year Constellation Cup title drought. New Zealand hasn't held the trophy since their maiden win in 2012, but came agonising close to wresting the silverware away from the Diamonds last year.

The Ferns pulled off a stunning 58-47 victory in Waimarama Taumaunu's final test in charge to draw the 2015 series 2-2, but Australia just managed to hold on to the trophy on goal countback.

"I think that competitiveness is really good for us. Everyone is scrambling for a bib and a place in that test line-up on Sunday and it has added extra energy into the group," said Grant.

"The Constellation Cup means a lot to us, especially in a year when there are no other pinnacle events, and we haven't had it for a long time so we really want it."

The two sides last met four weeks ago in the Quad Series decider in what proved a handy preview of what to expect from the two sides in the upcoming series.

The Ferns pushed the world champions hard, and even led for sustained periods of the match, before Australia surged ahead over the dying stages of the game as the New Zealand side wilted under the pressure.

Ferns coach Janine Southby said that experience has galvanised her thinking on what the team need to work on.

"It was a combination of things - firstly a lack of time together. They haven't had that time together to build that really innate trust and knowledge of one another so when you put the ball in you know they're going to go in that direction. I think we're still missing that a little bit," said Southby.

"And also at times we didn't execute our basics under pressure - not driving really hard into the ball, not doing the work to get free and clear of the defender. Those are things we need to do every second of the game. So for us, it's about being really disciplined in what we need to do and doing it for a full 60 minutes."

Southby will name her match day team of 12 tomorrow afternoon following the Ferns' final training hit-out.


Constellation Cup
Silver Ferns v Australia
Game 1: Sunday, 5.30pm - Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney.
Game 2: October 12, 10.00pm - Silverdome, Launceston.
Game 3: October 15, 7.45pm - Vector Arena, Auckland.
Game 4: October 20, 7.45pm - Stadium Southland, Invercargill.

Constellation Cup history
2015: New Zealand 2-2 Australia (Diamonds win series on goal percentage)
2014: New Zealand 0-4 Australia
2013: New Zealand 1-4 Australia
2012: New Zealand 2-1 Australia
2011: New Zealand 2-3 Australia
2010: New Zealand 1-2 Australia

- NZ Herald

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