A classic match between the Silver Ferns and the Diamonds sealed the Quad Series in the last international netball competition before the Netball World Cup later this year.
A hard-fought game with almost no mistakes in the first half gave way to a battle of attrition and fatigue in the second half as the players left it all on the line.
Teams went goal for goal early, with the Silver Ferns showing more flow and an easier path to a shot early, but both sides were able to find the pass to post and keep the scores goal for goal.
A Steph Wood footwork call broke the rhythm first, as the Silver Ferns pulled ahead first. The Diamonds couldn't find a way to slow the ball into Grace Nweke, who had the first 12 goals for the Silver Ferns without any trouble.
An umpiring error, giving the ball to the Silver Ferns on the scoring baseline after Grace Nweke spilled the ball, was the first crack in the feeding armour, before the next feed, into Ameliaranne Ekenasio was also under pressure.
Despite that, the Diamonds were the ones to blink first again, as an Ash Brazill pass went astray, giving the Silver Ferns a double break late in the first quarter.
Those two turnovers by Australia were the only opportunities either side had to take the opponent's centre pass away, with Grace Nweke piling up 17 goals in the first quarter, and the score at 19-15 at the first break.
Gina Crampton and Nweke were among the most impactful players on the court, as the Australian defensive duo of Courtney Bruce and Sarah Klau struggled early. The duo had decided largely to sag off Ekenasio, in favour of cramping Nweke in the circle, but the tactic was having little effect early.
Conversely, for the Australians, the Sunshine Coast Lightning duo of Steph Wood and Cara Koenen was firing on all cylinders in the first half. Despite that, Wood had the first miss of the game, early in the second quarter, and the Silver Ferns took advantage to stretch the lead.
It was only moments later that the first feed to Nweke went awry, the pass too high to try and get past Sarah Klau and spilling out of bounds, giving the Diamonds the chance to break one back, and reduce the margin to two goals.
The pressure on the feed to Nweke continued to build, despite penalties on Bruce and Klau on some feeds. The Diamonds took advantage of every error, and midway through the second quarter, the scores were level again.
Ash Brazill was the next to blink, with a pass that was picked off by Karin Burger, giving the Silver Ferns back the advantage. Despite the scoreline, it appeared that the Silver Ferns were starting to struggle, with fewer repeat drives and slower play through the midcourt late in the second quarter.
A late tip from Courtney Bruce gave the Australians an opportunity to get back on level terms, as Cara Koenen won a penalty and Steph Wood scored after the half time buzzer to put the Australians one behind (with the centre pass after the break).
Both sides started the second half with unchanged lineups, as both Dame Noeline Taurua and Stacey Marinkovich trusted their playing groups to get the job done.
The Australians levelled immediately in the second half, and then forced the issue with Paige Hadley managing a gain immediately to give the Australians a break early in the quarter.
A feed under pressure to Cara Koenen led to a step and a turnover, before Grace Nweke turned the ball over at the other end. Koenen missed the initial shot, as the signs of fatigue came all at once.
The errors started to creep in early in the third term, as both sides showed the weariness of a brutal, tight first half.
Courtney Bruce was starting to cause trouble for the Silver Ferns, as the Australians stretched the lead to six goals halfway through the third term. Ten goals to three in the first half of the quarter was telling, as the Silver Ferns struggled for fluency.
Karin Burger was given a caution for contact, but Steph Wood was penalised for a held ball and couldn't take advantage. The Silver Ferns closed to within four, but still seemed to be missing something, as the smooth attacking play frayed.
Another miss from distance by Steph Wood gave the Silver Ferns the chance to draw within one goal, as the scoring slowed in the third quarter.
Brazill finally won a gain as the Ferns attack was telegraphed, and the Australians took advantage to return the lead to four goals at the final break, as a late shot by Grace Nweke was waved off.
Paige Hadley blinked first in the fourth quarter, as the Diamonds couldn't find a way through in attack, and a pass went astray. The Diamonds forced the Silver Ferns to work inch by inch down the court, but Ekenasio found the goal and reduced the margin to three.
As Ekenasio started to have an impact in the fourth quarter, Bruce's hedge between helping Klau on Nweke and covering her own player became more and more fraught with danger.
An error by Wood wasn't taken advantage of, as the Silver Ferns squandered an opportunity to get the game back on level terms. It proved costly as the Diamonds took advantage of a Ferns error to make the margin four goals again with ten minutes to go.
Halfway through the fourth term, Taurua made the first tactical moves, switching Jane Watson off for Kelly Jury, and Kate Heffernan for Whitney Souness.
A tangle between Courtney Bruce and Grace Nweke brought play to a halt, and there was a tossup between Nweke and Klau that was eventually won by Nweke.
The Australians maintained control of the scoreboard, with a six goal lead with five minutes remaining in the match. A last-ditch change from Taurua was made with three minutes to go, as Peta Toeava came on for Gina Crampton.
The late changes tightened the scoreboard, but the Diamonds were determined to possess the ball, and take the sting out of the game. At one point, they controlled the ball for 94 seconds in the forward half of the court before scoring, leaving just 90 seconds on the clock after that.
Burger played the final minute with a warning, after being penalised for repeat obstructions, but it didn't matter, as the Diamonds pushed the lead to six goals and ran out the clock.
The Diamonds defended their Quad Series title with a six-goal win over the Silver Ferns 56-50. The win gives them five consecutive international series victories in a row since the last Quad Series, as they build towards the Netball World Cup in July.
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