Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Inner Circle: Records, rankings and the missing Silver Ferns

Kayla Cullen (left) and the Northern Mystics midcourt have struggled to start the season. Photo / Getty
Kayla Cullen (left) and the Northern Mystics midcourt have struggled to start the season. Photo / Getty

As the two teams tipped to lead the way for the Kiwi franchises - the Magic and Mystics - continue to struggle after three rounds of the ANZ Championship, Inner Circle has deemed it time to officially reassess the New Zealand netball power rankings.

The Magic, the inaugural New Zealand conference winners, are winless after three rounds, while the Mystics have just one point from their outings courtesy of a last-gasp draw with the Central Pulse last night.

So without further ado, Inner Circle can declare the Southern Steel are now the team to beat in the New Zealand conference.

Yes, there was that draw with the Tactix in round two, which suggests the Steel are just as prone to the odd lapse. But it's slim pickings, okay?

After their slip-up against the Tactix, the Steel responded with a convincing win over the Magic at the weekend, doing what they failed to do the week prior - put their foot down when they had a handy lead.

Having always been a high-scoring team with supershooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid a dominant force under the goal, the Steel are beginning to form a strong unit around her, making a strong impact on defence as well.

Coach Noeline Taurua has got her new side ticking along nicely.

Fitness myth

The hoary old explanation for the Mystics' struggles was raised again this week, with some - including coach Debbie Fuller - claiming a lack of fitness was behind the Auckland side's poor start to the season.

But this analysis seems more a front for deeper problems with the franchise. The bigger concern is their makeshift midcourt of Kayla Cullen and Fa'amu Ioane - both converted defenders.

They both have the athletic attributes and the creative flair, but they are still learning their positions. The natural instincts are not there yet. It's been telling during the late stages of matches when the pressure really comes on, the Mystics attack falters. When they can't generate the flow they are looking for through court, the players get flustered, passes are pushed and mistakes are made because their new midcourt hasn't yet learned how to grind out a match.

De Bruin back

The Vixens and Magic will have a bye this weekend. While four rounds into the competition seems an odd time to schedule a bye, it has probably come at a good time for the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side.

The week off not only gives the Magic a chance to regroup following their poor start to the season, but also gives their injured stars time to recover. The Magic have dearly missed the influence of their captain, star defender Leana de Bruin, over the opening three rounds. The veteran Silver Fern has been nursing a foot injury, but is expected to be back in action following the bye.

There is less certainty over key midcourter Grace Rasmussen, who is struggling with a calf injury. Rasmussen injured her calf in the preseason and made a brief appearance for the Magic in their round one loss to the Pulse, but did not look comfortable. With calf injuries notoriously difficult to heal, the Silver Fern midcourter could be sidelined a while yet.

Firebirds equal competition record

The Queensland Firebirds rampant run of form continued over the weekend as they notched up a record-equalling 16th straight ANZ Championship win against the Vixens.

The 58-47 win brought the Firebirds level with the Adelaide Thunderbirds, who amassed a 16-game winning streak over the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Now it is the Thunderbirds that stand in the way of the Queensland side claiming the record outright, with the two sides to face off in the battle of the birds in Adelaide this weekend.

If the Thunderbirds' early season form is any gauge, the visitors are unlikely to be troubled. The Adelaide side have lost their opening three games by an average of 19 goals.

Missing Silver Ferns

Netball New Zealand, with the help of stats guru and the Sky Sport production team's netballing oracle Todd Miller, has embarked on an ambitious heritage project over the last year, seeking to collate a database of all 159 players to wear the black dress.

There are 17 players the research team have been unable to track down or find information on and are seeking details or family contacts for these pioneers of the sport.

If you have any leads for the team, you can contact them on heritage@netballnz.co.nz

The missing Silver Ferns. Photo / Netball NZ
The missing Silver Ferns. Photo / Netball NZ

Irony corner

Former West Coast Fever coach Sue Gaudion has had plenty to say about the looming transtasman netball split this week.

In an article on abc.net.au, Gaudion pointed to New Zealand's competitive struggles in the ANZ Championship as the impetus for the split, claiming NNZ had too many teams that diluted its talent.

"At what point do you say we need to be selfish? There's no way [Netball Australia] can sit and hold hands with New Zealand and carry them along," said Gaudion.

Erm...given Netball Australia have banked nearly $15m in broadcast revenue from this side of the Tasman, and have been unable to land a paid TV deal in nine seasons, exactly who is carrying who?

- NZ Herald

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