Former Silver Ferns coach Yvonne Willering bemoans the diminishing depth in New Zealand netball after a disastrous weekend of results in the trans-Tasman league.
The hyped "rivalry round" featuring five matches proved to be a misnomer as four New Zealand teams crumbled badly against their Australian opponents.
Only the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic notched a win - by just five goals at home to Australia's weakest side.
Willering was alarmed by the inability of New Zealand teams to sustain four quarters of quality netball, often collapsing after halftime, while the emphasis on ball retention left plenty to be desired.
Underpinning the problems was an obvious lack of depth compared to the five Australian teams, who were brimming with quality players while there was still a heavy reliance on a handful of New Zealand big names.
"We're still bringing in import players and I question the depth of our talent," Willering told NZPA.
"We haven't had the depth (in recent years) if you look at the ANZ Championship results and while we are still competitive at the elite level, if we go without, say, an Irene van Dyk or a Casey Williams, I just don't think we have the same depth."
The fourth round of matches saw Australian teams trump New Zealand's by a whopping 288 goals to 230 over the five games. The overall shooting percentages were similar but New Zealand sides put up a meagre 285 shots compared to their opponents' 351.
The Central Pulse and Canterbury Tactix were overwhelmed by the New South Wales Swifts and Melbourne Vixens respectively.
Both of those sides were expected to struggle this season but more was expected of the Northern Mystics and Southern Steel, who succumbed heavily in Brisbane and Adelaide.
The Mystics recruited well this year and were expected to mount a credible title challenge but shipping 71 goals to the Queensland Firebirds last night suggests they remain distant playoff hopefuls.
"The Magic have a number of national players in their team so they should be up there but you've got to look at the depth within the other teams," said Willering, reserving judgement until season's end over whether the competition would be better with just four New Zealand teams.
"It is too early to go into panic mode but at the moment our teams are guilty of not being consistent for four quarters. The number of unforced errors... we don't seem to treasure possession the same as our Australian counterparts. That's evident again in this weekend's games."
She noted the Vixens thrashed the Tactix yesterday despite missing three world class players - Julie Corletto, Chelsey Nash and Natasha Chokljat.
Magic veteran van Dyk, who turns 38 in June, landed 41 from 42 shots but elsewhere Willering was wary New Zealand teams were opting for import players in the shooting circle.
"Therefore you only have a limited number of players to select there for the national team," she said.
"The Australian team went to Scotland and England without some of their key players but still performed with credit. Would we be able to do the same?"
Willering felt another team could yet join the Magic in the playoff hunt - as the Steel successfully did last year - but only because of the draw which sees New Zealand teams play two rounds of matches against each other, leaving Australia's best teams to effectively eliminate each other from contention.
Willering envied Australia's academy structures in every state and noted some of their ANZ Championship teams had a competitive second side below them, creating more depth and pressure on all players in the franchise to perform.