Losing year confirmed for Ferns
A Constellation Cup clean sweep would be the exclamation point on one of the darkest years in Silver Ferns history.
The Ferns are in a 2-0 hole against Australia in the annual trans-Tasman series after dropping both games across the ditch.
They will be desperate to finish a miserable 2018 on a positive note in the final two games in Hamilton tomorrow and Wellington (Thursday) with the Ferns already assured of their first calendar year with more losses than wins since 2009.
While few expected the rebuilding Ferns to capture the Constellation Cup for the first time since 2012, a 4-0 series whitewash to Australia would be a tough start to Noeline Taurua’s coaching tenure.
This season has been a nightmare for New Zealand following April’s dire showing at the Commonwealth Games, where they finished fourth and failed to medal for the first time. That ultimately cost former coach Janine Southby her job, combined with a damning independent review into the Ferns’ free fall.
New Zealand are guaranteed to chalk up their first year with more losses than wins since 2009, when they lost six of 11 games, including two to the World Seven. The following year, they rebounded to capture gold at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
In 1996, the Ferns also had a poor year, losing four of seven games.
Last year under Southby, the Ferns had an eight win-seven loss record, padded out by two wins over minnows Wales.
With two tests left to play this year, they have an embarrassing seven win-12 loss record. That includes a first loss to Malawi during the Commonwealth Games and three defeats to Jamaica. The Ferns had only lost twice previously to the Sunshine Girls prior to this year.
Bringing respectability back to the Ferns won’t be a quick fix and Taurua and her new-look side, which includes the returning Laura Langman and Casey Kopua, who is recovering from a foot injury, deserve a grace period.
Taurua took over from Southby in late August and is only in her second series with the team after taking charge in the September Quad Series.
She has a mighty task ahead to rebuild the broken Ferns with July’s World Cup in Liverpool the measuring stick to see how far she has improved the side and developed combinations and unity.
The Ferns showed patches of promise in the first two Constellation Cup matches, losing the opener 57-42 in Brisbane on Sunday. They were much improved in Wednesday’s second test in Townsville, trailing by one goal early in the final quarter (43-42) before an 8-0 Australian run helped them prevail 56-47.
Taurua said beating the Diamonds would be huge for the squad with several younger members having never tasted victory over Australia at senior level.
A win would provide evidence they were tracking in the right direction ahead of the World Cup and reward their commitment and hard slog at training.
‘‘It would be fantastic for us to get a win when we’re on home soil, but also once again we need to keep chipping along and progressing and improving,’’ Taurua said.
‘‘Equally, where we’re currently sitting in the bigger scheme of things with the World Cup being in July of next year, that’s a must.’’
Australia have a fine recent record against the Ferns, winning the past nine matches dating back to September 3 last year when New Zealand pulled off a 57-47 surprise in Invercargill.
The Diamonds are one win away from equalling their longest winning streak (10 games) against the Ferns achieved between 1995 and 1998.
Taurua said they were determined to finish a forgettable year on a positive note, leading into a critical 2019 campaign.
New Zealand will only get one more crack against Australia in January’s Northern Quad Series before the World Cup, so any victory over the Diamonds is priceless for self belief.
‘‘The expectation is we need to be better and we need to present something out there we can be proud of and the New Zealand general public can be proud of as well. [Wednesday was] a first step and a closer step than what we were in Brisbane.’’
Dejected Silver Ferns leave the court after losing their bronze medal match against Jamaica at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. New Zealand will finish with a losing record in a calendar year for the first time since 2009. MICHAEL DODGE/GETTY IMAGES
Australia captain Caitlin Bassett, left, and Gretel Tippett celebrate their Constellation Cup test win over the Silver Ferns in Townsville on Wednesday. GETTY IMAGES