The Net Blacks have netted their second straight men’s FAST5 Netball World Series crown with victory over their great trans-Tasman rivals Australia.
Led by a stand-out shooting display from Thomson Matuku, the final MVP, and Junior Levi, the Net Blacks produced a game-changing third quarter to push out for a 51-34 win.
The Net Blacks had already beaten Australia 42-29 on day one of the World Netball Series, but with nothing to lose, Australia pushed the defending champions hard in the first half.
Captain Eriata Vercoe said it was “such a thrill” to take the title for a second straight year over Australia.
“I can’t really explain how good this feels,” he said.
“To be able to finish the netball year on a high is something special and for some of our returning players, it’s great to be able to do it for them.”
Vercoe said after the disappointment of last month’s trans-Tasman, which Australia won, they needed to make some changes to their game plan and the midcourter felt they put those to the test over the last two days of FAST5 play.
“I felt like there was a lot more structure coming into here especially coming in not so much of a high from the trans-Tasman Cup,” he said.
“We knew that they were going to bring it to us, so we had to bring some different structures into our game, and I felt we implemented them as well.”
Vercoe also paid tribute to his team of shooters who gave them the edge in the second half, particularly the third spell which they won 17-3.
“They just shot the house down which was fantastic,” he said.
“It really was amazing out there. Everyone talks about the crowd as their eighth player, but we could really feel it. They definitely helped us get through these tough matches, especially against Australia.”
Men’s coach Dion Te Whetu opted for Levi and Matuku in the shooting circle to start the final, with Jake Schuster and Michael Munday in defence and captain Vercoe running the middle at centre.
Levi opened the scoring for the Net Blacks and a quick turnover at the other end of the court gave the home side the early advantage.
Pin-point accuracy with their delivery into Levi gave the Net Blacks plenty of options and the hosts impressed with their two-point play to go into the first break with a 16-11 lead.
There was no let off in intensity for the second spell as the lead changed hands a number of times – a penalty on the buzzer allowing Levi to convert and give the Net Blacks a slender 28-27 lead at halftime.
The aerial play from both sides brought the crowd into the game in the third spell but it was the Net Blacks who surged ahead.
Two six-point plays from Matuku in the last minute of the third quarter pushed the Net Blacks out to a 45-30 advantage with six minutes to play.
A clean intercept from Schuster, who had a busy night on defence, sparked the Net Blacks again – something they needed against an Australian side which pushed hard in the fourth quarter.