Canterbury netball hits crisis point as Mainland Tactix annihilated by 49 goals
OPINION: Canterbury netball, once one of the strongest regions in the country, has reached its lowest ebb.
There has been some dismal chapters in the 10-year history of the Mainland Tactix, the province's flagship netball team, but Wednesday's 90-41 drubbing on their home court by the Southern Steel was rock bottom.
Losing by 49 goals and conceding 90 in a match doesn't happen by accident. They signal alarm bells and that serious issues are at play.
The situation with the Tactix is so dire, it's reached the stage where Netball New Zealand must step in and see what they can do to help.
Whether that be with specialist coaching, financial assistance or having a quiet word to rival players about the possibility of moving to where they can get guaranteed court-time.
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Is it time netball luminaries, past and present, in the Mainland area were consulted for a brainstorming session to suss out how to take the Tactix forward?
Whatever the board and lovely, but long-suffering chief executive Brigit Hearn have attempted, isn't working.
The break-up of the trans-Tasman league and playing their Kiwi peers each week was meant to be a ray of hope for the Tactix.
After years of being thumped by Australian opposition and propping up the bottom of the ANZ Championship, they had visions of being competitive in the new-look New Zealand league.
Canterbury, a former powerhouse at national championships, and the home of the successful Flames side in the old National Bank Cup, have become the laughing stock of New Zealand sport with their embattled Tactix.
Worryingly, they look even more of a basket case than what we've seen in past seasons.
They're averaging a dismal 37 turnovers per game in their opening four losses. Their through court defence as a unit was pathetic against the Steel, leaking 90 goals in 60 minutes.
It's been nearly a year since they last won a competitive game, losing 12 matches on the trot in either the ANZ Championship or Premiership.
When Sue Hawkins took over as Tactix coach for 2015, some thought the no-nonsense Australian was finally the person to instil self belief in the players, get them firing on court and tracking in the right direction.
Hawkins must wonder what she agreed to with the Tactix no better off than when she first started in the job.
Honest, amiable and driven, Hawkins is well-liked by the squad, but three wins from 30 matches in charge doesn't cut it in the results-driven world of professional sport.
She is contracted through to the end of next season and is fast running out of time to pull off the four-year rebuild project she set out to achieve on arrival in Christchurch.
Hawkins must start getting the best out of her players and demanding more, but she isn't a miracle worker.
Would Noeline Taurua, Australian Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander or the esteemed Wai Taumaunu be doing any better if they were coaching this bunch? Probably not.
The Tactix can't seem to take a trick with skipper Jess Moulds, a fringe Silver Fern, rupturing her ACL last year while captaining New Zealand A, which will sideline her for most of this season.
There's no question they have the least talented squad in the ANZ Premiership and that's been a constant theme for a long time.
Recruiting leading players has been a perennial issue. Their terrible losing record over a long time is certainly a deterrent. Uprooting promising young North Island players from their family, studies and community isn't easy, especially when there isn't a golden pot of money to offer.
Retaining them has been just as challenging. There's no better example than defender Jane Watson, who earned her stripes with the Tactix, but flourished at the Steel, going on to make the Silver Ferns.
Malawi international Mwai Kumwenda impressed for the Tactix, but never tasted victory much. She is shining with the second placed Melbourne Vixens in Australia's domestic league, landing the fourth highest amount of goals.
Remember Ellen Halpenny, Phillipa Finch and Charlotte Kight? They all went on to enjoy success elsewhere in the former ANZ Championship after shifting away from the Tactix.
You only need to glance at New Zealand under-21 and national secondary school squads from recent years to notice the Mainland region isn't producing the amount of representatives it once did.
There's more opportunities available to talented young sportswomen than ever before, and most usually excel at several codes.
When wins are as rare as Tactix players in the Silver Ferns, it can be demoralising for the next generation when assessing what pathway they will take.
Having six evenly matched sides, who are performing consistently, is pivotal if Netball New Zealand's ANZ Premiership is to be sustainable long-term and maintain public interest.
Not even Steel supporters want to witness results like Wednesday's walloping.