The Silver Ferns quest for World Cup revenge has got off to a bumpy start as an energised Australia tonight picked up from where they left off in Sydney.
The world champion Diamonds side may have had a host of new names in their line-up, but the outcome was familiar to New Zealand as Australia cruised to a 50-44 win in the Constellation Cup opener in Christchurch.
With the exception of a strong opening period from the Ferns, the Australians looked the more clinical and creative of the two sides on attack, with shooter Natalie Medhurst particularly influential. The crafty goal attack dominated the first phase ball, and put 1.93m shooter Caitlin Bassett in strong position under the post through her clever feeding.
It was the Diamonds ninth straight Constellation Cup victory, and it will take some serious homework from the Ferns over the next 24 hours if they are to avoid their 10th loss in a row in Auckland on Thursday night.
But it won't so much be the unflattering record lingering in the minds of the players heading into Thursday's match. The Ferns hopes of exacting revenge for the heartbreaking 58-55 loss in Sydney two months ago and sending departing coach Waimarama Taumaunu out on a high hinge on keeping the series alive in Auckland.
The New Zealand coach was clear on where her side needed to improve ahead of the second test, which will be followed by matches in Melbourne and Perth.
"We need to try and do something about a very talented Australian shooting end," she said.
"We've got some work to do in the defensive circle about getting some ball. I'd like to see us turning our gains into goals - I thought we got a bit of ball particularly through those middle quarters that didn't get to our circle."
The two sides approached the series with very different focuses. The world champion Diamonds are using the series to kick-off the next four-year cycle, welcoming several new faces into the squad, including youngsters Gabi Simpson, who made her international debut last night, and Gretel Tippett.
The Ferns meanwhile stuck with same line-up that contested the World Cup in Sydney, with the exception of the absence of Maria Tutaia, as they looked to continue to build on the progress made over the past few months after a radical overhaul of their gameplan and finish off what has been a largely miserable four years on a high.
With the series being Taumaunu's last in charge of the Ferns, and several veterans expected to step down at the end of the year, the personnel changes and fresh approach will come next year.
The absence of Tutaia was dearly felt in the New Zealand shooting circle tonight, with her replacement Jodi Brown lacking the same confidence and urgency in going to the post.
That saw the Ferns put in a lot more passes around their shooting circle, giving the ever-alert Australian defensive pairing of Laura Geitz and Sharni Layton a lot more opportunities to snaffle the ball.
Leading 26-22 at halftime, Australia's decisive move came mid-way through the third period as they stretched their advantage out to seven on the back of some strong defensive pressure, which led to some questionable decision making in the New Zealand attacking third at times.
In an effort to give the Australian attack something new to think about, Taumaunu injected young defender Phoenix Karaka into the match for the final period in place of skipper Casey Kopua. Despite some impressive early touches, Karaka could not reverse the Ferns' fate as the Diamonds maintained their six-goal advantage at the final whistle.