Australia overcome by New Zealand’s hot start in Constellation Cup opener

New Zealand have brought Commonwealth Games gold medal winners Australia down to earth with a 56-48 opening Constellation Cup win in Auckland.

Returning to action for the first time since Birmingham, the Diamonds were blunted by Noeline Taurua’s dynamic Silver Ferns on Wednesday night.

Led by all-action goalshooter Grace Nweke (40 of 42), New Zealand had winners all across the court, with goal defence Phoenix Karaka making six intercepts, wing attack Peta Toeava indefatigable and keeper Kelly Jury making seven gains.

The Silver Ferns won it early, slotting 11 goals without reply in a brutal seven-minute first quarter streak.

New Zealand began their match-winning run down 6-8, when a combination of Australian penalties, botched passes and shooting errors allowed the Kiwis to surge to 17-8.

Of the streak, the last goal was the most spectacular, with Toeava spearing a centimetre-perfect ball from mid-court for Nweke to shoot cleanly.

“That was the best start that we’ve ever, ever had in our life,” Taurua, coaching her 50th Test, said at half-time.

New Zealand stifled Australia in the mid-court, forcing captain Liz Watson into rushed decision-making and uncharacteristic mistakes.

Australian shooters Cara Koenen (21 of 22) and Steph Wood were out of sync inside the circle while, at the other end, Nweke and captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio ran riot.

Ekanasio (16 of 19), on return after giving birth to her second child had huge crowd support, but Nweke shone brighter, netting 12 first-quarter goals for a 20-9 quarter-time lead.

Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich rang the changes, benching error-prone goalkeeper Sarah Klau and Wood before half-time and eventually using four off her bench.

New goal attack Kiera Austin (9 of 14) didn’t fare much better but replacements Sunday Aryang and Jamie-Lee Price at goal defender and centre made an impact.

The Diamonds shaved the deficit to eight at half-time, and three late in the third, before the Silver Ferns steadied for a 42-36 at three-quarter time lead.

Any hopes of an Australian comeback were dashed by a pair of stunning turnovers by Karaka, one from well behind the court, as the Black Ferns consolidated their lead.

“We were slow out of the blocks … they put us under a lot of pressure,” Marinkovich said. “Full credit to New Zealand, they’re chasing balls down hard and they’re very strong onto the ball.”

Earlier, a historic men’s netball international curtain-raiser was won by Australia over New Zealand 64-48, with Australian goal attack Brodie Roberts (27 of 30) best afield.

The Constellation Cup series moves now to Tauranga for game two on Sunday, before concluding games in Melbourne and Gold Coast next week.