OPINION: The travails of the Central Pulse surely carry a message for many coaches and selectors.
The Pulse, a collection of golden oldies, were tipped as the New Zealand team to beat before the ANZ Championship.
Instead, as the competition reaches play-offs stage, they've fallen off the pace in the most shattering manner.
Their 60-33 thumping by the Queensland Firebirds - a must-win game - on Saturday was embarrassing.
Pulse coach Robyn Broughton has had a difficult time marshalling her troops this season.
Her troubles began when she was deprived of last year's goal shoot, Australian Caitlin Thwaites.
Shooter Irene van Dyk decided that after more than a decade of living in the capital but representing Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic she would finally play for a team from Wellington.
The problem is van Dyk, 42 next month, is years past her best.
She's living off her reputation and drawing a fat pay cheque because of the player she once was.
Perhaps the Pulse's sponsors wanted her because of her drawing power, but Broughton might have been happier to stick with the solid Thwaites, who has played well for the New South Wales Swifts this season.
Van Dyk remains an accurate shooter under the hoop, but her general play is off the pace and, more importantly, she clearly doubts herself.
She looked beaten from the opening whistle against the Firebirds, whose key defender, Laura Geitz, has outplayed her for several seasons.
Not surprisingly, van Dyk left the court in the third quarter.
Broughton's problems haven't ended there. She has the big names, but are her players truly committed?
Donna Wilkins, living in Southland and busy raising a family, attends half the Pulse's training sessions and always gives it everything she has on court. But she is 36 and has been trying to ward off a leg injury.
Liana Leota actually lives in England, where her husband, Johnny, is a professional footballer. She had her third child this year and has rushed back to try to make a difference for the Pulse. Again it hasn't worked.
Another Pulse star is Joline Henry, 31. Henry is a fine player, but lives in Hamilton. I expect she'll play for the Magic next season.
It'll be easier being near her family. She too has battled injury this season.
The only Pulse star to really fire has been captain Katrina Grant, a formidable defender. But Grant can't do it alone, and has watched her team suffer some astounding defeats.
There was an opening defeat by the Adelaide Thunderbirds, a match that should never have been lost, and an inexplicable 55-53 loss to the lowly Tactix.
The Pulse's problems emphasise how important it is for coaches to choose fit, eager, fresh players.
All Black coach John Hart retained Sean Fitzpatrick, Zinzan Brooke and Michael Jones too long in the late 1990s.
They got slower and became more injury-prone and left his team badly exposed.
More recently, cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting hung on long, playing when far past their best.
Again the selectors were not bold enough to drop them.
That is the lesson to take from the Pulse this season - reputations mean nothing if players aren't still producing the goods.
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