NZA pushed all the way by impressive NZU21s
NZA took the full 60 minutes to survive a spirited onslaught from their young opponents before sealing a tense 57-53 win over NZU21 on the second day of the Cadbury Netball Series in Palmerston North on Thursday.
The immensely talented NZU21s came of age in pushing their more experienced opponents throughout, just falling short in a frantic final stanza.
In an enthralling game, where the lead changed hands several times, the NZU21s showed plenty of enterprise and maturity as they continue their preparations towards next year’s Netball World Youth Cup.
With fewer shots at goal, the NZU21s were well served by standout shooter and Player of the Match Saviour Tui who converted 40 from 44.
More crossing of players between the respective squads was once again highlighted in a series featuring the best of the best in New Zealand.
That included Kimiora Poi, Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Claire Kersten coming into NZA for today’s match after turning out for the Silver Ferns on the opening day while Tayla Earle went into the U21s from NZA.
The NZU21s set the tone early, dominating the opening stanza while belying their youthful status. The opening day connection between shooters Saviour and captain Tiana Metuarau continued to thrive on day two as the dynamic pairing made all the right moves while producing a perfect shooting return in the first quarter.
In-circle U21 defender Parris Mason threw herself into everything at the other end to put the NZA shooters off their stride while strongly-built wing defence Renee Savai’inaea did her bit to slow the attacking momentum of her opposing attackers.
Taking time to warm up, NZA found their feet late in the piece to get themselves back in the contest but could not stop the NZU21s taking a 17-15 lead into the first break.
The only change on the resumption was Kersten coming on at wing defence for NZA in place of Kate Heffernan. Tightening their defensive end paid dividends for NZA who levelled the match after five minutes.
Midway through Georgia Tong came on at goalkeeper for NZA, with immediate effect with her long reach and hunting ability closing down the threat of the NZU21s potent attacking line.
Metuarau made the shift to wing attack allowing for Khiarna Williams and her extra height to take over at goal attack.
The teams traded goals before NZA nudged ahead, Kersten proving a strong distributor through the midcourt in helping provide more ball on attack as her team took a narrow 30-29 lead at the main break.
The absorbing contest continued to ride on a knife edge through the opening stages of the third quarter before a run of five goals pushed NZA into a four-goal lead. Tong and captain Erena Mikaere got their hands to turnover opportunities with Aliyah Dunn, playing at goal attack, providing the finishing under the hoop.
Not to be outdone, the young guns rallied one last time, with in-circle defenders Mason and Paris Lokotui throwing themselves into the action with effective vigour while Tui and Metuarau, back at goal attack, delivered their special magic under the hoop.
In doing so, the NZU21s again closed the gap, leaving the game delicately poised when NZA took a 44-43 lead into the last turn.