15/04/2024

Gretel Bueta was key to the Diamonds' triumphant revenge over the Silver Ferns. (Photo: Australian Diamonds/Twitter)

Veteran goaler Gretel Bueta gave the Silver Ferns' circle defence trouble all night long, helping enact sweet revenge for the Diamonds in the perfect Quad Series start.

Veteran Diamonds shooter Gretel Bueta was a game long headache for a Silver Ferns circle defence that struggled to adjust to combat her.

Game one of the Netball Quad Series couldn’t have gone any better for the Australian outfit, downing the familiar rivals in comprehensive fashion (53-39), with the game sewn up by three quarter time.

Bueta showed off all the familiar traits of her game, including one of her famous ‘lay up’ goals after earning a rebound off her own shooting.

The Queensland Firebird missed just one of her 32 attempts for the match, also finishing with two goal assists and two rebounds.

She was a constant threat to a New Zealand side that just couldn’t seem to find its mojo in defence, as coach Dame Noeline Taurua searched for her best circle defence combination all game long.

Try as Sulu Fitzpatrick may, the initial Australian shooting combo of Bueta and Steph Wood seemed a constant challenge to get a read on. Even with the assistance of Karin Burger, Bueta found a way to end up with a shot on goal.

While Fitzpatrick and Burger started in goal keeper and goal defence respectively, Taurua also used Kayla Johnson in goal defence and Kelly Jury in goal keeper. No combination seemed to be able to hold Bueta back, however.

Diamonds captain Liz Watson spoke post-game on her teammate’s starring role.

“Gretel keeps me guessing all the time,” she laughed.

“I think Steph [Wood] is such a playmaker out on court, she’s like another feeder for us. She can read the play so well. I think they did an amazing job.

“They were able to fake off the defenders and draw the attention off the player we didn’t want to give the ball to and make a really clear option.

“We spoke about being patient, being clear with where we’re moving and where the ball needs to placed, and I think we executed that really well the majority of the game.”

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Wood and Bueta showed just why they’re now Stacey Marinkovich’s starting shooting combination, using their quick burst of movements to confuse the space in the circle.

But with the game largely sewn up, Marinkovich began to make some changes, with Jamie-Lee Price replacing Paige Hadley in centre, and Sarah Klau coming on at goalkeeper. Taurua similarly shuffled her midcourt around.

Bueta made the shift into goal attack, with Cara Koenen taking on the goal shooter bib to give the Australian circle a serious level of height.

Despite the addition of the long-reaching Jury in defence, the Diamonds shooting circle still looked largely untroubled. However, it was clear that the chemistry between Bueta and Koenen still needed some work.

The feeding and ball movement around the circle got a bit scrappy for Australia late, Bueta turning it over back into the hands of defenders twice. Once straight into Jury’s hands, and the other overshooting Koenen out of play.

Marinkovich sees it as a work in progress, but one that’s vital to the flexibility of the Diamonds circle.

“It’s something we’re working on in the training environment, and we’re looking probably to prescribe a bit more structure to players coming onto the court,” the coach said.

“I guess that’s the beauty of getting out and competing, you’ve got to be able to come out and play your role and have that impact, but also how does the rest of the team bring those players into the mould?

“They’ve been going flat out, and then you bring in that. I think we just need to work the combination a bit better with structure.

“I think Cara provides some great versatility for us. I’ve seen some pretty exciting things of what that pair can do in training, now we’ve just got to find some opportunities to run it on the open court.”

The match as it played out

The defenders were the difference makers early for the Diamonds, with Courtney Bruce and Ash Brazill both claiming intercepts to get their game rolling.

Liz Watson barely looked she’d missed a minute on court, her partnership with centre Paige Hadley clear early. The two ran onto space and found each other constantly, before one would complete the pinpoint feed in.

Watson and Hadley constantly provided options to the shooters at circle edge, giving them ample opportunity to reposition and outwork the Ferns defenders.

The Ferns found some success with long passes between the thirds, wing attack Gina Crampton a strong proponent of it when she didn’t have Brazill on her case.

Australia took a 17-10 lead into quarter time, with an early stamp of authority.

Bruce and Jo Weston set the pace immediately to start the second term, with Bruce forcing an errant deflection out of play from Tiana Metuarau.

Wood’s first miss at goal of the game was quickly snapped up by Burger, earning a crucial rebound to give Maia Wilson a goal against the play.

Crampton and Sam Winders found their way around Brazill finally, getting on a two goal run. Fitzpatrick and Burger looked to have defended Wood perfectly, forcing her to pass back out of the circle before Burger have away a penalty. Jo Weston then did the same at the other end to Metuarau.

Five minutes into the second quarter and the first substitution of the game was made, with Grace Nweke coming into goal shooter and immediately offering her strong overhead presence, goaling straight away. Wilson moved into goal attack, as Metuarau took to the bench.

The Ferns defence started to force slower feeds from the Diamonds, much more active within the circle. This didn’t stop Wood though, showing off her long range shooting at its best to score on New Zealand’s centre pass.

Kayla Johnson came off the court, swapping Claire Kersten into wing defence. She similarly made an immediate impact, forcing a feed in to Bueta out of play.

Kersten offered an option out of centre pass as well, as Ferns coach Noeline Taurua looked for a more dynamic look to her midcourt.

A wayward pass back into play that flew right over the head of Bueta gave the Ferns a chance to peg two goals back, with Nweke and Wilson combining accordingly.

Coming into half time, the Diamonds narrowly extended their lead to nine goals, going up 21-30 in a low scoring second term.

Watson took 18 of the centre pass receives in the first half, making 11 goal assists from her 24 feeds. Wood was incredibly efficient in not only shooting herself, but feeding Bueta, with 11 of her feeds turning into goal assists.

Brazill meanwhile had two gains and two intercepts, a pillar of Diamonds defence.

It was an incredibly successful night for the two on return to the court. Brazill to the Diamonds, and Watson to netball in general after last appearing nearly a year ago.

Starting the second half, Kelly Jury started in goal keeper, offering extra height and reach to try and combat Bueta’s 100 per cent shooting dominance. Shannon Saunders also replaced Crampton at wing attack.

The rebounds came from the defensive end as well, Bruce not looking to be outdone. Hadley continued to make use of bullet passes with blistering feeds into the circle.

After a bit of blood confusion for the Ferns, Metuarau came back on at goal attack, with Wilson moving into goal shooter in place of Nweke.

Jury finally found the better of Bueta, holding strongly against her and using that long reach to deflect the feeds in nearly straight out of her hands.

No matter how many steps forward the Ferns took however, they seemed to be on the receiving end of another quick score from the Diamonds. The lead extended to 18 at the final break.

When the changes came, Klau made her presence known, deflecting an attempted Ferns feed in with ease, while Koenen scored her first goal for the game after three minutes.

The Ferns feeds became longer and more desperate, bombing in and long and hoping against the deadly Bruce/Klau combination.

Metuarau took it upon herself to provide some individual brilliance within the circle, earning her own rebound and nailing the shot on the second attempt.

But a quick turnover out of the Diamonds centre pass was wasted by the Ferns once again, as all the midcourt could do was watch the ball roll slowly back into Diamond possession.

Maddy Turner got her chance with just three minutes to go, coming on in goal defence to join her Swifts partner in crime Klau.

For the Ferns, Phoenix Karaka made an immediate impact, upsetting Bueta’s shot and making her case to earn more court time in the remaining two games in what was a largely dysfunctional circle defence.

The Diamonds next play South Africa at 1am AEDT on Monday, while the Silver Ferns play England at 3:15am.

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