Maria Folau of New Zealand comes under pressure from Courtney Bruce of Australia. Picture: AAP
Maria Folau of New Zealand comes under pressure from Courtney Bruce of Australia. Picture: AAP

Aussie-born ace helps NZ destroy Diamonds

Australian-born Ameliaranne Ekenasio has kept New Zealand's Constellation Cup hopes alive, delivering the knockout blow with a long-range shot in the dying seconds to win the third Test 54-53 at Qudos Bank Arena.

The Silver Ferns overcame a six-goal deficit to take a 2-1 lead in the series and set up a winner-takes-all clash in Perth on Sunday.

Sparked by veterans Laura Langman and Maria Folau, New Zealand stunned the crowd of 13,497 in Sydney when they held their nerve better in the frantic closing stages of the netball thriller. .

 

Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Courtney Bruce fight for the ball. Picture: Getty Images
Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Courtney Bruce fight for the ball. Picture: Getty Images

The 28-year-old goal attack Ekenasio has Maori heritage.

She came through the Australian system before moving to play for Central Pulse in New Zealand in 2014 after struggling for regular court time with the Queensland Firebirds. Ekenasio also took time out of the game in 2017 after having her first baby, Ocean.

Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander acknowledged that Ekenasio, who shot 27 from 29, was instrumental in her side's defeat.

"I'm proud of her in a funny way, but I don't like her beating us, either," Alexander said of the ­Bundaberg-born Kiwi star.

"To have someone who started in our system, and clearly she didn't blossom here, so she had to move somewhere else to find her way back in her homeland."

 

 

New Zealand players celebrate their win over Australia during the Constellation Cup Test match at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney. Picture: AAP
New Zealand players celebrate their win over Australia during the Constellation Cup Test match at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney. Picture: AAP

 

Alexander said that discipline would be the deciding factor for Australia when the sides met again.

The Diamonds gave away a whopping 52 penalties and 21 turnovers in Sunday's match.

"It comes down to errors in the pressure minutes, we just didn't play it as well as the Silver Ferns. It's as simple as that," she said.

It was New Zealand's first Test victory over the Diamonds in Australia in three years and gave the Silver Ferns a crack at a second Constellation Cup series win in 10 attempts and their first in seven years.

.

 

Australian players huddle after their loss to New Zealand. Picture: AAP
Australian players huddle after their loss to New Zealand. Picture: AAP

 

A win by any margin will be enough for the Diamonds to retain the Cup on percentage because their two losses were by a combined two goals and they won game two in Auckland by six.

"It would be massive and it's an opportunity for us after the World Cup," player-of-the match Langman said.

DIAMONDS' WINGS FLY

With centre Paige Hadley sidelined for the rest of the series, the Diamonds' midcourt had to step up, and recent debutantes Laura Scherinan and Ash Brazill did just that. Scherinan had 24 goal assists and Brazill snatched three gains and two intercepts.

.

 

Caitlin Thwaites looks for a shot despite pressure from Jane Watson. Picture: AAP
Caitlin Thwaites looks for a shot despite pressure from Jane Watson. Picture: AAP

 

START THWAITES

Alexander's decision to bring goal shooter Caitlin Thwaites on late in the third quarter paid off. The experienced shooter dug the diamonds out of a two-point deficit, knowing exactly when to slow down and speed up play. Her level-head is what Australia need in the moments that matter.

FOLAU IS UNBREAKABLE

Once again, Diamonds defenders were unable to tame Folau. Her ability to keep cool and execute wily play is unmatched.

The Diamonds led 52-50 with about five minutes to play but couldn't close it out.

NEW ZEALAND 54 (Ameliaranne Ekenasio 27 Maria Folau 27) bt AUSTRALIA 53 (Caitlin Bassett 19 Caitlin Thwaites 16 Gretel Tippett 13 Tegan Philip 5) at Qudos Bank Arena

 

Maria Folau impressed for New Zealand again. Picture: AAP
Maria Folau impressed for New Zealand again. Picture: AAP
News Corp Australia

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