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Winning start for NZ Men at Cadbury Netball Series

Highlighting their considerable range of skills, the NZ Men proved too good for a plucky NZU21 side when prevailing 73-44 in the opening match of the 2020 Cadbury Netball Series in Palmerston North on Wednesday.

In a year of change and uncertainty, New Zealand’s four elite teams will be involved in the four-day series which also includes the Silver Ferns and NZA.

The NZ Men flew home in the final quarter after being kept honest by the NZU21 team for much of the opening three-quarters.

It is a key series for all involved, the NZU21s using it as important preparation ahead of next year’s Netball World Youth Club while the NZ Men will get to play their World Cup next year after this year’s event was postponed due to COVID-19.

Both teams exhibited plenty of the flair, the ‘no fear attitude’ of the youthful NZU21s matching the NZ Men in an entertaining opening stanza.

The NZU21s got off to the perfect start, slotting the first three goals before the NZ Men found their feet and rhythm to stamp an early mark.

Both teams had their moments in a fast-paced opening which provided plenty of ball movement.

Finding their rhythm and connections, the NZ Men overcame their slow start to highlight their renowned strengths of ball speed, athletic ability and aerial prowess. The imposing figure of goal shoot Junior Levi, who towered over the NZU21 in-circle defenders of Taneisha Fifita and Parris Mason, was instrumental in getting his team on the front foot.

The NZU21s took their opponents on gamely with a few highlights of their own, shooters Saviour Tui and captain Tiana Metuarau combining well while Mason and centre Renee Savai’inaea relished the physical contest.

With plenty of ball getting into his hands, Levi ensured the NZ Men took a 17-10 lead into the first break.

Metuarau moved into wing attack on the resumption with Khiarna Williams coming off the bench and into goal attack for the NZU21s which paid dividends as the second stanza progressed.

With goal defence Jake Schuster having a strong presence for the NZ Men and the well-versed attack line of Levi, Daniel Jefferies, Cameron Powell and captain Kruze Tangira building on their familiar connections, the floodgates threatened to burst open.

However, the growing link between Tui and Metuarau paid dividends, the NZU21s making a strong comeback as they gained more impetus on attack.

Losing the quarter by just three goals, with Tui producing an 18/22 return, the NZ Men took a 34-24 lead into the main break. Levi scored 25/28 for the first half.

Making multiple changes, the NZ Men’s aerial game got the better of their young opponents during the third quarter while Georgie Edgecombe took over at centre and Savai’inaea went to wing defence for the NZU21s.

Struggling a little on their second phase play, the NZU21s came to life with Williams finding her feet to produce some sparkling play in the circle. Showing good hustle on defence, Fifita and Mason got their hands to a number of turnover opportunities. Respective goal shooters Tui and Levi continued to be individual standouts for their respective teams as the NZ Men took a 51-34 lead into the last break.