The Silver Ferns have opened their Constellation Cup campaign with a crushing 12-goal loss to Australia in Sydney today.
In an opening eerily reminiscent of last year's World Cup final played at the same venue, the New Zealand side were blown off the court from the outset, finding themselves 9-1 down after five minutes. But unlike last year's World Cup showdown, in which the Ferns fought their way back to a narrow the deficit to just three by the final whistle, this time the Diamonds dominated from start to finish notching up their highest ever score against New Zealand in the 68-56 win.
"They took the game by the throat right from the start and we never responded," admitted Ferns coach Janine Southby.
Once again star shooter Caitlin Bassett set the platform for the win with a flawless performance in goal, notching up 47/47 in her three quarters on the court. Had Lisa Alexander kept Bassett on for the full game, she would have undoubtedly beaten her record international tally of 53 goals, which she collected in her last outing against the Ferns in last month's Quad Series decider.
Missing athletic midcourter Kayla Cullen, who has been ruled out of the rest of the international season with a foot injury, the Ferns were forced to make changes to their starting side from that which last took the court against Australia in last month's Quad Series decider. The changes saw Laura Langman pushed back into wing defence, with Shannon Francois getting the nod to start at centre - a combination that has had mixed results to date.
Without Langman directing proceedings from centre, the Ferns attack struggled early on as the connection between Francois and wing attack Grace Rasmussen looked frayed. The suffocating Australian defence, led by the tenacious Sharni Layton, only worked to further confuse the Ferns attack with players hesitant to let the ball into the shooting circle.
Down the other end of the court the visitors looked just as hapless as Jane Watson and Katrina Grant could do little to stem the flow of ball into Bassett. The 1.93m sharpshooter was paired with 1.92m basketball convert Gretel Tippett in the first half and the duo took advantage of the stark height difference over the Kiwis.
Watson and Grant could do little but watch the ball sail over their head as the Australian midcourt delivered passes with pinpoint accuracy into the shooting circle.
Trailing by 10 goals at halftime, Janine Southby had no option but to make changes, bringing on Anna Harrison at wing defence for her first international appearance since the 2014 Commonwealth Games final, while Ameliaranne Ekenasio was benched at goal attack in favour of Te Paea Selby-Rickit.
Harrison found herself in chase mode for the entire quarter, with the veteran unable to match the speed of Robinson. With the Australian wing attack afforded greater freedom in the third spell, the Diamonds kicked the scoring up another level, outscoring the Ferns 22-16 for the quarter.
With the Diamonds threatening to post a 20-goal plus margin on New Zealand, the Ferns did well to claw it back to 12 over the final quarter as they played with greater courage and composure once the game was beyond reach.
Gina Crampton, who was brought into the squad as cover for Cullen, was introduced at wing attack for the fourth quarter for her international debut and impressed with her movement and delivery into the shooting circle.
"When you kind of surrender the outcome and just let the ball go it's quite good. Gina is an unknown quantity and that was great for us," said Langman.
The massive loss has put the Ferns under huge pressure for the rest of the series. To break their four-year Constellation Cup drought, the New Zealand side will probably need to win all three remaining tests.
The series now moves to Tasmania, where the two sides will meet on Wednesday night, with the final two tests to be played in New Zealand.