NZME netball journalists Dana Johannsen and Rikki Swannell answer three key questions following Australia's 3-1 series win over the Silver Ferns in the Constellation Cup.
1) Done again by those bloody Aussies eh? Where did the Silver Ferns let themselves down last night?
Once again the Ferns started poorly, as they struggled to settle under the smothering defence of the Australians. The home side found it particularly tough to deliver their passes into the shooting circle, with Bailey Mes unable to free herself from the clutches (sometimes quite literally) of Sharni Layton.
The addition of Tutaia in the second spell helped bring Mes (and the Ferns) back into the match. But every time NZ threatened to level the score, they'd cough up the ball and hand the advantage back to Australia.
RS: The silly errors, the ones they call the non-negotiables - stepping, breaking etc - they were absolute killers in the final stages when the Ferns were trying to get over that three goal hump. That speaks to composure under pressure, being able to execute when the heat comes on and withstanding everything that Australia throws at them. New Zealand did that at times, but Australia do it more often.
2) There seemed to be a lot of official cautions being dished out to players last night (drama!), were they warranted?
Absolutely. It was good to see the umpires take a stand in that regard and try to clamp down on deliberate infringements, with some of the work on the circle edge particularly cynical. Had they taken a similar approach in the third test in Auckland we would have undoubtedly seen players taking spells on the sidelines. The concerning thing about last night's match was more the infractions that weren't called - the burrowing into players, the holding, the intimidation over the shot - which saw the game descend into a spiteful affair.
RS: There's been a lot of niggle in this series, and the umpires made best use of the caution/warning rules last night. But while it put an end to the really obvious stuff there was a lot of cynical play and I found the amount of whistle in that final quarter infuriating...kind of like when you're at the local courts with a hangover and it feels like every whistle is being blown right in your ear.
So who's the onus on, the players to tidy it up, or the umpires to stamp it out? Players will push and push until they find the boundary, so perhaps the boundary needs to come sooner and umpires start warning earlier. I also really think it's time to do away with neutral umpires...the best two teams in the world should have the best whistleblowers.
3) How would you rate Janine Southby's first season in charge?
It's fair to say Southby was a divisive choice for Silver Ferns coach, but she has proved a thoughtful operator willing to make the bold calls when needed. Southby won't be happy with a one from five record against the Australians this season - as no one in the New Zealand set-up will be - but she has made strong headway in other areas.
Her biggest success this year was the depth she has built in her side, with five players - Jane Watson, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Storm Purvis, Maia Wilson and Gina Crampton, all making their international debuts, while others like Shannon Francois and Ameliaranne Ekenasio experienced regular court time for the first time.
RS: The results against Australia don't reflect it but there's been a lot to like from Southby and her assistant Yvette McCausland-Durie, given the jury was very much out. Southby seems very composed and clear in her instructions, and they appear to be quite a harmonious squad (that's also down to the leadership of Katrina Grant, who has really grown this season).
Southby has another year and a bit before the acid test comes at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, so the question will be can she turn this promising start and all this new talent into a team capable of beating the Aussies consistently. Five new caps in a season, none of whom looked out of place and a couple who really shone, is a real feather in the cap for the coaching team.