The Silver Ferns have rounded out their season in style with an excellent 48-43 victory over the Australian Diamonds in the final round of the Quad Series at Claudelands Arena in Hamilton.
While the Diamonds took the competition on goal percentage, the Ferns will take the initiative into next year.
It was an inspired performance from the Ferns in front of an outstandingly passionate 4200 capacity crowd, who weren't shy from giving it to umpires Chris Campbell (Jamaica) and Janice Treasure (England) with the pair making some shaky calls throughout.
Having lost to Australia by 20 in their previous meeting in Sydney, the Ferns turned it on and were led by a strong defensive effort from captain Casey Williams and Leana de Bruin, in her 100th test match.
The duo finished with three intercepts a piece and allowed the midcourt plenty of ball to dish up to shooters Irene van Dyk (28/33) and Maria Tutaia (20/24).
Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu stuck to her mid-week assurance of starting with her top lineup after having enough of experimentation through the series.
There were no surprises in the Diamonds' line either, as Lisa Alexander stuck to the same starting lineup which was used in their previous match against England as well as their last match against the Ferns.
Van Dyk started with an uncharacteristic miss from close range, then her Diamonds counterpart Catherine Cox also missed a close attempt just a minute later.
Both sides struggled early to get their shooters quality ball and some excellent defensive pressure from the Ferns, which saw de Bruin snaffle two intercepts inside the first eight minutes.
Tutaia struggled early, landing only half her six shots, while Susan Pratley landed all six of hers and helped Australia fight back to take a 13-9 lead to quarter time.
After the break the match looked to be heading out of the home side's reach as the Diamonds went up by six.
But a stunning revival by the Ferns had them take the initiative.
A Williams intercept helped her side down court and claw back to within two, before a loose Aussie ball had possession back with the hosts.
Van Dyk made it 17-16 and Australia then called a timeout to stem the tidal wave of black attack.
After the interlude van Dyk tied the game up, but not long later she missed a sitter then Camilla Lees threw a poor ball out of court which appeared to have the Diamonds off the hook.
But soon after de Bruin pulled off a brilliant intercept and flung the ball over her head to get New Zealand back in front.
In the dying seconds before halftime Williams came up trumps as she got her hands on a 50-50 ball from the Diamonds, which meant the Ferns held their 25-23 buffer going into the long break.
For the third quarter the Ferns introduced Anna Harrison at wing defence in place of Kayla Cullen, while the Diamonds also made a change there with Mo'onia Gerrard on for Renae Hallinan.
Alexander also replaced Cox with the giant Caitlin Bassett.
The third quarter became a real dog fight, with plenty of ball up for grabs for whoever was hungriest.
More excellent defence from the Ferns had Williams in Bassett's face, forcing a held ball turnover and New Zealand extended their lead to 29-25.
Williams called a timeout midway through the quarter and the Diamonds switched Gerrard and Hallinan again, as well as bringing Erin Bell on at goal attack for Pratley.
Bell missed her first two shots, then with five seconds remaining in the quarter Williams again came up with an intercept, with Tutaia flinging a long ball to van Dyk to sink and make it 36-32 at three-quarter-time.
New Zealand went ahead by six early in the final quarter, before a de Bruin rebound saw the Ferns add another to go up 39-32.
From there New Zealand stayed tough and went on to finish the job well.
- © Fairfax NZ News