The sad state of the transtasman league's New Zealand conference deteriorated further over the weekend as the chasing Kiwi teams failed to seize their opportunities.
The Mainland Tactix, second equal on points with the Northern Mystics heading into the round, suffered a 21-goal hammering at the hands of the NSW Swifts in Christchurch today, despite a promising start to the match.
The loss followed the Mystics' 49-45 defeat to an improved Magic side yesterday.
The weekend's results saw the New Zealand conference leaderboard tighten up further, with three teams sitting on just two wins each after eight rounds. While it makes for an intriguing battle for the top three spots, it also makes a mockery of the conference system, given its now virtually guaranteed that two of the three Kiwi finalists will have a negative win-loss record.
With it now confirmed this season will be the final year of the ANZ Championship, concerns about the credibility of the league are void. But league bosses are still hopeful this year's playoffs will produce a memorable finale to the nine-year competition.
New Zealand hopes of signing off on a high note firmly rest with the Southern Steel, who have the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the ladder to eight points if they can continue their unbeaten start to the season against the Pulse tomorrow night.
Chasing their first play-offs appearance in nine seasons, the Tactix produced a strong start against the Swifts this afternoon, producing the type of netball that saw them emerge as unlikely pacesetters in the New Zealand conference earlier this season.
Unfazed by the star-studded Swifts line-up, the Tactix proved disruptive on defence, with Jess Moulds and Zoe Walker capitalising on a couple of miscommunications on attack from the new Swifts shooting pairing of Caitlin Thwaites and Stephanie Wood.
There were no such problems down the other end of the court however, with some spectacular interplay between the Tactix all-international shooting pairing of Bailey Mes and Mwai Kumwenda.
The Tactix would have been disappointed to head into the first break level with the Swifts at 16-all, having had the opportunity to take a handy three-goal lead late in the period.
The first quarter was to prove the only highlight of the match for Tactix fans, with a different Swifts line-up emerging after the break.
The connection between Thwaites and Wood solidified in the second period, while the Swifts defensive pairing of Sharni Layton and Maddy Turner began to wise up to Mes' quick offloads in the shooting circle.
The visitors doubled their seven-goal halftime lead heading into the final quarter before their bench players came on to inflict further damage as the Swifts went on to notch their third 70-plus goal tally of the season.
New Zealand fans may console themselves with the knowledge the Swifts' Kiwi import, Silver Ferns star Laura Langman, was named player of the match after another tireless performance in the midcourt.
In today's earlier match the Queensland Firebirds extended their incredible unbeaten run to 21 games with a 62-51 win over the winless Adelaide Thunderbirds.