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NZA dominate NZU21s in third place play-off

Showing their greater experience, NZA produced a well-crafted 68-47 win over the NZU21s to seal third place at the Cadbury Netball Series in Palmerston North on Saturday.

After gaining the lead for the first time late in the first quarter, there was no looking back for NZA, whose constant pressure along with the shooting volume of Grace Nweke kept the NZU21s at arms-length. NZA prevailed by four goals when the teams met in the previous encounter two days ago.

Surging away at the end of each quarter left NZA well in control against the plucky NZU21s, who can be happy with their contribution during the series. The younger brigade has impressed with their talent and intent as they work their way towards next year’s Netball World Youth Cup.

Continuing with the theme of the series of rotating players and managing work-loads, NZA were bolstered by Nweke, Kimiora Poi and Karin Burger, who all played for the Silver Ferns the previous day. The trio made the NZA starting line-up at goal shoot, centre and goal defence, respectively.

On a similar note, Maddy Gordon got her first outing for the NZU21s, starting at wing attack, after turning out for NZA in the previous matches. The NZU21s started with the impressive young shooting duo of captain Tiana Metuarau and Saviour Tui as well as the well-performed defensive duo of Parris Mason and Taneisha Fifita.

In the face of a staunch through-court defensive effort from NZA, the NZU21s were up for the challenge, keeping their noses in front for most of the opening stanza. Respective goal shoots, Nweke and Tui were key figures in carrying the shooting loads for their teams while highlighting their accuracy.

NZA made a late rally in the closing stages to hit the lead for the first time before edging to a 17-15 lead after a high-scoring first quarter.

There were no changes for either side on the resumption, the towering figure of Nweke continuing her influence as NZA threatened to break the game open. The more experienced team capitalised on the ability of captain Erena Mikaere and Kate Heffernan to pick off turnover opportunities as they built into a position of ascendancy when stretching out to a six-goal lead.

Under constant defensive pressure, the NZU21s lost some of their shape on attack but continued to contest and challenge gamely, with centre Renee Savai’inaea having a strong showing.

Kate Burley replaced Burger with five minutes to go, NZA pushing out their advantage when leading 32-24 at the main break.

Burger returned for NZA in the third quarter while Aliyah Dunn was introduced at goal attack, and talented NZU21 midcourter Ainsleyana Puleiata got her opportunity at wing attack.

Swarming NZA defence continued to put the NZU21s off stride as they struggled to negate the constant attention while Nweke remained the mainstay under the hoop. Towering over her opponents, the super shooter was a key figure with plenty of ball arriving in her hands.

The NZU21s didn’t enjoy as many opportunities, Metuarau impressing with her shooting from long range alongside the impressive Tui, who was solid throughout in all aspects of her play.

Playing in an unfamiliar position, Dunn also had a useful outing in playing second fiddle to Nweke. Getting plenty of turnover opportunities, NZA delivered a strong finish to the stanza while building to a dominant 54-37 lead at the last turn.