Silver Ferns topple Diamonds in Constellation Cup opener

New Zealand's Samantha Winders [R] looks to pass during the Constellation Cup match in Christchurch, March 2, 2021 Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

The Diamonds have slipped to defeat in their return to Test netball in coach Stacey Marinkovich's first match, losing 49-44 to New Zealand in the Constellation Cup opener on Tuesday night.

Some 492 days since their last outing and just two days out of quarantine, Australia were beaten out of the blocks in Christchurch and never recovered.

The victory will raise Kiwi hopes of winning the Cup for the first time since 2012.

Down by four at quarter time and seven at the half, New Zealand's lead blew out to double figures early in the third term before Australia stormed back.

Marinkovich rang the changes and had some success: captain Caitlin Bassett and debutant Kiera Austin in goal attack put on five straight goals.

The injection of Karin Burger in defence midway through the third term turned the tables and the Silver Ferns went to the last change ahead 40-31.

Centre Liz Watson said the Diamonds made "basic errors" and "struggled to get through the zone defence".

Australia shaded Aotearoa in the fourth quarter, winning it 13-9, but left themselves too much to do.

Bassett, the regular skipper under former coach Lisa Alexander but the first of Marinkovich's rotated leaders in this series, scored 19 goals from 21 attempts in a typically strong display.

Against a steely Silver Ferns defence, Austin showed early nerves, missing four of her first 10 before finishing with 18 from 24 shots.

Verity Charles also made a Diamonds debut, playing the second half at wing attack.

A third debutant, Cara Koenen, took Bassett's place for the fourth term and scored seven, shooting at 100 percent.

The series is being played behind closed doors in Christchurch this week, with crowds and matches in Tauranga scrapped due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Australia will need to win the final three games or tie the series 2-2 with a healthier goal difference to retain the Constellation Cup for an eighth straight time.

Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua, who masterminded a boilover 2019 World Cup final win over Australia, served the Diamonds notice of their intent.

"We're gunning for it. Now is the time for us," Taurua said.

Game two is on Wednesday before the series concludes with matches on Saturday and Sunday.