Reversing their round robin result, the FAST5 Ferns went on to clinch a seventh Fast5 Netball World Series title when shading Jamaica 34-33 in a pulsating 2018 final in Melbourne on Sunday.
Beaten by Jamaica earlier in round robin play by a similar one-goal margin, the FAST5 Ferns turned the tables in the final to confirm their status as the best exponents of the shortened version of the game when securing their seventh World Series title from nine attempts.
"This is absolutely awesome and I’m really pleased for this group of girls,’’ FAST5 Ferns coach Debbie Fuller said afterwards.
"Jamaica are such an athletic team and you cannot underestimate their pride, the aerial game they’ve got and their power, in terms of what they can do on the court, so we had to come out with a strategy that would choke the ball into their shooters.
"Everyone committed to that and we were able to hold it for that dying last minute which seemed to go on forever.’’
Taking their power play (worth double points) in the second quarter was not as productive as the FAST5 Ferns would have liked but their ability to chip in two-point shots throughout the match, with all shooters – Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Bailey Mes, Monica Falkner and Aliyah Dunn contributing, kept the New Zealanders well in the contest.
With an imposing Jamaica, bookended by outstanding defender Shamera Sterling and towering shooter Romelda Aiken, taking their power play in the last quarter and trailing by just nine, compounded by the threat of long bomb specialist Shanice Beckford, the signs looked ominous for the FAST5 Ferns.
Potting the close shots, with excellent rebounding from Mes and Ekenasio, and a wholehearted team defensive effort, the FAST5 Ferns just kept their noses in front through a gripping final stanza.
Newcomer Karin Burger continued her excellent tournament form with a big defensive intercept with 40 seconds left to play, and the FAST5 Ferns leading by three. It proved crucial in buying extra time, the fast-finishing Jamaicans running out of time and consigned to the runners-up spot for the second year running.
The tournament heralded the budding depth of talent being built with new caps Dunn, Burger, Holly Fowler, Claire Kersten and Kimiora Poi leaving a strong imprint while captain Sulu Fitzpatrick was an influential presence throughout.
Earlier in the day, the FAST5 Ferns made no mistake in their must-win final round robin match, against Malawi, when delivering a clinical 36-16 win to advance to the final.
Effective and efficient across all areas of the court, the New Zealanders held the upper hand throughout. Young shooters Dunn, with five, and Falkner, three, provided the impetus from the two-point shooting zone while Fitzpatrick and Burger were a suffocating and active presence on defence.
The FAST5 Ferns negated Malawi’s power play with precision and slick transitional play, even employing the defensive hoist as the Queens struggled to find any joy under the hoop. Fleet-footed midcourt duo Poi and Whitney Souness provided the speed and movement on attack and defence to round out the all-important win.
The FAST5 Ferns unbeaten run came unstuck in their opening match of the day in a dour struggle against pre-tournament favourites Jamaica.
Both teams struggled with their shooting accuracy, Mes having the chance to pinch the game for the FAST5 Ferns after the final buzzer but couldn’t convert from the two-point zone, allowing Jamaica a low-scoring 23-22 win.
After a hectic two days of the high-octane, fast-paced version of the game, the closeness of the teams was exemplified when four of the nine games on the final day were decided by one point.
Final placings: FAST5 Ferns 1, Jamaica 2, Australia 3, Malawi 4, England 5, South Africa 6.
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Photo: Rémy Gros