The Silver Ferns got their Constellation Cup campaign off on a bum note at Spark Arena last night, falling to a 57-54 loss to the Diamonds.
After the high of last month's big Quad Series win over Australia, which instilled a lot of confidence in the young team, last night's effort represented a regression.
Three of NZME's top netball brains, Dana Johannsen, Rikki Swannell and Jenny Woods, answer the burning questions from the Constellation Cup opener.
1. Hey! That wasn't the same Silver Ferns side we saw in Invercargill. What happened?
DJ: The Ferns struggled to make the same impact defensively as they did in Invercargill, as Australia have clearly gone away and worked on how to unpick the New Zealand zone defence. I can only recall one clean intercept from the Kiwi team last night. The inability to make things happen on defence seemed to frustrate a few players, with ill-discipline creeping into their game.
RS: No one had a great game from New Zealand, no one stood out and said "follow me". Australia were far more effective in breaking down the Kiwi zone and didn't allow the Ferns defenders to attack and hunt and create turnovers like they did in Invercargill.
JW: The Diamonds were seriously stung by that loss, and made sure it didn't happen again. It looked as though Lisa Alexander hadn't fed them for a while as their hunger for the ball was far greater than that of the Ferns. Too often, particularly in the shooting circle, the New Zealand players were left standing, wondering what had just happened. They'd got their act together by the second half but couldn't win enough ball to break back. Interesting to note the number of clean intercepts : NZ 1; Aust 5.
2. Don your sparkly jacket and pretend you are Janine Southby, what aspect of the Ferns performance are you most disappointed with?
DJ: That the Ferns were out-performed in all the effort areas. The Kiwi side seemed to do a lot of ball-watching during the match, and failed to react - or worse, looked to the umpire - when the ball spilled loose, while the Australians all swarmed to pick up the scraps, and made sure they were backing one another up.
RS: The passing under pressure. They threw away a lot of ball, allowed Aussie to get hands to ball and generally forced the issue on attack. Australia almost sneaked up from behind at times to pick NZs pocket and the Ferns seemed to be waiting for a call from the umpire to get them out of trouble.
JW: Having been careful how to wash the sparkly top, I'd be disappointed with a number of areas, but most particularly on attack. I would have been very tempted to replace Maria Tutaia after that first half and re-install the Selby-Rickit/Mes combination that worked so well in the Quad Series. Having said that, Tutaia took a dose of the medicine she prescribed in the halftime chat with SKY and came out with a bit more mongrel. Grant and Francois had quiet games - and of course these are two positions the Ferns have the least back up.
3. So had normal service resumed then? Can we expect the Diamonds to dominate the series from here?
DJ: No. I guess if there's one positive Southby can take from the match it's that the Silver Ferns performed that badly and only lost by three. A Diamonds side of old would not have let the Ferns get back within one goal down the home stretch having led by as many as eight goals through the middle stages of the match.
RS: No. I don't think this is a particularly strong Australian team like we've seen dominate in recent years and they ground out that win. Nothing New Zealand did is unfixable but a couple of players like Shannon's Francois and Katrina Grant need to bring more than they did last night.
JW: This has all the makings of a repeat of the Taini Jamison Series ... two teams rebuilding, with one eye on the Commonwealth Games in April. It was a very willing contest last night - at times ugly, but never dull.