06.10.2008 – Graham Croker

Goal attack Susan Pratley played a key role in Australia maintaining a 28-year unbeaten run over England when the Diamonds defeated the visitors 42-39 in the first Test played in Newcastle on Saturday.

The Sydney University Sports Scholarship holder missed just one of her 14 shots at goal to be equal top scorer with Kate Beveridge, who also finished with 13. Natalie Medhurst, who replaced Pratley at the attacking end, finished with 12.

England goal attack Louisa Brownfield was the leading scorer in the match with 23 as the visitors came close to ending Australia’s long-standing winning sequence. It was Australia’s 36th straight win over England and their 47th in 48 clashes overall.

The record was under threat at the last change when Australia held a slender 33-32 advantage after being outscored 13-10 in the third quarter. England levelled the scores with the opening goal of the quarter, but Australia forged ahead and held on down the stretch.

With injuries to shooters Sharelle McMahon and Catherine Cox and the retirements of defenders Liz Ellis, Selina Gilsenan and Laura von Bertouch, skipper Natalie von Bertouch and goal defence Mo’onia Gerrard were the only starters from Australia’s world championship-winning team.

England held an early 2-1 advantage before three straight goals from Pratley gave the Diamonds a 4-2 advantage. England remained in touch through the opening quarter, trailing 13-11 at the first change.

Australia nudged their lead to six during the second quarter, but the tenacious tourists cut the deficit to four by half-time.

Plummer changed her attacking end at the main break, bringing on Adelaide shooter Medhurst in place of Pratley.

Brownfield nailed 10 of her 11 third quarter attempts to bring her side back into the game. But with Medhurst making 12 of her 14 attempts, including all five in the final quarter, the hosts held sway.

Diamonds coach Norma Plummer said the team is capable of a lot more.

“There were patches that were good, but patches aren’t going to win a lot of top games,” Plummer said. “In the end we have to start to consolidate a bit. Two twenty-year-olds (Geitz and Bassett) got their (first Test) caps tonight and that was fantastic.

“We might have lost a bit of aura in name players, but I don’t think the team has. If they were ever going to get us, it was tonight.”

The second Test will be played in Brisbane on Wednesday night.

Australia 42 (Kate Beveridge 13 Susan Pratley 13 Natalie Medhurst 12 Caitlin Bassett 4) d England 39 (Louisa Brownfield 23 Rachel Dunn 10 Tamsin Greenway 6) at Newcastle Entertainment Centre. Crowd: 3042.