Disappointing finish but overall NZ not too bad: Taurua

Silver Ferns goal attack Georgia Heffernan, becoming the third member of her family to play...
Silver Ferns goal attack Georgia Heffernan, becoming the third member of her family to play international netball, looks for a way past Australian defender Jo Weston in London yesterday. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Australia finished with a flourish to close out a 63-50 win over the Silver Ferns in the opening game of the Nations Cup in London yesterday.

The Silver Ferns opened their 2024 international campaign with a new-look team to herald the start of a four-year cycle with a solid outing against the world champions.

Surging back strongly after a fine third quarter, the Silver Ferns were well in the hunt when trailing by five heading into the home straight but were unable to maintain the momentum against a fast-finishing Australia.

There were promising signs for the New Zealanders. Shooter Gace Nweke had a fine return, missing just one of her 42 shots at goal while continuing to build her new attacking partnerships with Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, Maddy Gordon, Whitney Souness and rookie Georgia Heffernan.

"It was disappointing how that last quarter ended but overall, it was not too bad", Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua said.

"Our ability, once again, to hold right through, our ability not to turn over ball and probably our fitness levels let us down a bit but it’s a start, we know where we’re at, so know the gaps and what we need to improve on."

Slotting in at goal attack, Georgia Heffernan became Silver Fern No. 185 when making her debut. She joined twin sister Kate (wing defence), and followed mother Annette, in a rare family milestone in international netball.

After an even start, a mid-quarter surge after some loose play from the Silver Ferns pushed the Diamonds out to a handy lead on the back of seven unanswered goals.

Reuelu-Buchanan and Gordon led a comeback when they found Nweke with more accuracy and consistency, but Australian defender Courtney Bruce was a constant thorn as the Diamonds surged out to a 14-9 first-quarter lead.

Both teams produced an entertaining start to the second quarter with a goal-for-goal start.

Defenders Kelly Jury and Karin Burger had their moments in slowing the Australian shooters while staying within striking distance.

Souness took over from Reuelu-Buchanan late in the piece, the speedy midcourter adding a pinpoint service to the accurate Nweke under the hoop as the Silver Ferns kept the Australians honest.

After a tough introduction, Georgia Heffernan found her feet to source good connections to Nweke, but Australia took a 29-22 lead into the halftime break.

The Silver Ferns made the best of starts on the resumption while going on to produce their most productive 15 minutes of the game.

Souness added a point of difference on attack for the Silver Ferns with her speed and distribution skills while Georgia Heffernan continued to grow in confidence through her building rapport with Nweke.

A buzzer-time goal from Nweke helped the Silver Ferns win the third quarter and trim Australia’s lead to 44-39 at the final turn.

Nations Cup

The scores

Australia             63
Cara Koenen 23/26, Sophie Garbin 17/18, Kiera Austin 16/21, Sophie Dwyer 7/8

Silver Ferns        50
Grace Nweke 41/42, Georgia Heffernan 9/11

Quarter scores:  14-9, 29-22, 44-39.

— Staff reporter