A crushing defeat would not typically offer a Silver Fern as competitive as Casey Williams any solace but the injury-plagued New Zealand captain found at least one positive from Australia's Quad Series demolition job in Sydney yesterday.
For Williams, the Diamonds relentless 68-48 victory was only uncomfortable viewing for the opening quarter - after the first break the combative defender made her most timely contribution of a year punctuated by ankle and knee problems.
The 27-year-old's introduction with fellow bench warmer Irene van Dyk could not change the complexion of a win that contained Australia's highest ever score against the Kiwis - and their biggest winning margin since the 1992 vintage thrashed the Silver Ferns by 23 goals in Newcastle.
A loss of that magnitude suggests New Zealand's hopes of adding the Quad Series to last month's lifting of the Constellation Cup are remote.
Australia has the security of a superior goal differential (+22) and even if the Silver Ferns rack up cricket scores against England and South Africa, New Zealand would almost certainly need to beat the world champions emphatically in Hamilton on November 1.
Williams made no attempt to sugar coat an insipid collective effort at Allphones Arena although she was pleased to at least stay on court for the duration after Wai Taumaunu introduced two of her strike weapons at the start of the second quarter.
"I'm quite a way away from that (top form) but I had no pain out there," said Williams, her harshest critic after two unusually tame outings against the tournament back markers last week.
"Obviously I need practice and time out on court, and the only place we get to do that is training. I'm just taking baby steps. I've had a few frustrating days but to come through three quarters with no pain, that's a positive."
The feel-good factor barely registered elsewhere in the Silver Ferns camp as they were powerless to impede ball flow from the defensive end to the domain of Cath Cox, Susan Pratley and latterly, Caitlin Bassett.
Cox and Pratley enjoyed one of the most productive partnerships of their test careers with 29 goals apiece while defenders Rebecca Bulley and Bianca Chatfield made the most of their opportunity in a squad brimming with depth and versatility.
Taumaunu does not have access to resources her counterpart Lisa Alexander is blessed with and admitted while winning the four-nation series was a goal, a demanding schedule meant players such as Williams would continue to be rotated and rested.
Experimentation would continue against England in Wellington on Thursday and the Tauranga clash against South Africa next Monday.
Defender Kayla Cullen started at centre in a rejigged midcourt after gaining some exposure to the role against England and South Africa and unsurprisingly the step up in class ensured the rookie had a frustrating afternoon - although Taumaunu backed the positional change.
"There were some glimpses of what I think she could be capable of in the future and she's now done a whole game against Australia. Those are positives to take from it," Taumaunu said, before dwelling on the negatives.
"I thought her defensive game loses a bit when she gets tired, there's some work for her to do over the summer in that sense but I do think she's got enormous potential there."
Taumaunu said it was vital the next generation were blooded, reasoning short-term pain would pay off in the long run.
"It's important as we develop a game where we don't have to rely on Irene, that we develop a game that doesn't entirely rely on Laura (Langman) and Casey," the coach said.
"We have to go forward and keep on doing that."
Alexander, meanwhile, knew she was witnessing easily the best performance of her reign when Australia had a 10-goal lead at the end of the first 15-minute period.
"The ball's singing around and when that's happening you know you've got something special," she said, predicting the Silver Ferns would be a far tougher proposition when the rivals meet again.
"It's going to be a real contest. A loss certainly makes a team look at itself very closely. You won't see that sort of performance in Hamilton," she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News