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New Zealand stuns Diamonds to win Constellation Cup opener

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New Zealand have brought Commonwealth Games gold medallists Australia down to earth with a 56-48 opening Constellation Cup win in Auckland.

Returning to action for the first time since Birmingham, the Diamonds were blunted by Noeline Taurua’s dynamic Silver Ferns on Wednesday night.

Led by all-action goal shooter Grace Nweke (40 of 42), New Zealand had winners all across the court, with goal defence Phoenix Karaka making a stunning six intercepts, wing attack Peta Toeava indefatigable and keeper Kelly Jury making seven gains.

The Silver Ferns won it early, slotting 11 goals without reply in a brutal seven-minute, first-quarter streak.

New Zealand began its match-winning run when trailing 8-6, when a combination of Australian penalties, botched passes and shooting errors allowed the Kiwis to surge to 17-8.

Of the streak, the last goal was the most spectacular, with Toeava spearing a centimetre-perfect ball from mid-court for Nweke to shoot cleanly.

“That was the best start that we’ve ever, ever had in our life,” Taurua, coaching her 50th Test, exclaimed at half-time.

New Zealand stifled Australia in the mid-court, forcing captain Liz Watson into rushed decision making and uncharacteristic mistakes.

Australian shooters Cara Koenen (21 of 22) and Steph Wood were out of sync inside the circle, while at the other end, Nweke and captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio ran riot.

Ekanasio (16 of 19) had huge crowd support, on return after giving birth to her second child, but Nweke shone brighter, netting 12 first-quarter goals for a 20-9 quarter-time lead.

Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich rang the changes, benching error-prone goal keeper Sarah Klau and Wood before half-time, eventually using four off her bench.

New goal attack Kiera Austin (9 of 14) didn’t fare much better but replacements Sunday Aryang and Jamie-Lee Price at goal defender and centre made an impact.

The Diamonds shaved the deficit to eight at half-time, and three late in the third, before the Silver Ferns steadied for a 42-36 at three-quarter time lead.

Any hopes of an Australian comeback were dashed by a pair of stunning turnovers by Karaka, one from well behind the court, as the Silver Ferns consolidated their lead.

“We were slow out of the blocks,” Marinkovich said.

“Full credit to New Zealand, they’re chasing balls down hard and they’re very strong onto the ball.”

Earlier, a historic men’s netball international was won by Australia over New Zealand 64-48, with goal attack Brodie Roberts (27 of 30) best afield.

The Constellation Cup series moves now to Tauranga for game two on Sunday, before concluding games in Melbourne and Gold Coast next week.

-AAP



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