Central Pulse's defence of their ANZ Premiership crown has taken another hit, falling to Southern Steel 56-52 in Porirua.
Despite their domination of last year's competition, the Pulse on Sunday fell to their fourth defeat from five matches played, looking a shadow of the side that claimed the 2020 title.
Even as the Steel were forced to finish the game with six players after defender Taneisha Fifita was sent off for dangerous play for a challenge on Claire Kersten, the Pulse were too far behind to threaten a fightback victory.
English import George Fisher led the way for the Steel, scoring 44 goals from 48 attempts, as Tiana Metuarau provided valuable support with 12 from 14.
For the Pulse, shooter Aliyah Dunn had a near-flawless game with 39 from 40, backed up by 13 from 14 to Te Amo Amaru-Tibble's 13 from 14.
Not all is lost for the Pulse, with 10 regular-season games still to play, however without the influence of Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio, and club captain Katrina Rore, the champions will have their work cut out for them if they're to earn a playoff spot.
The Pulse will look to snap their three-match losing run next Sunday, albeit it will have to come against the unbeaten competition leaders, the Northern Stars.
The Steel meanwhile will face off in a south island derby against Mainland Tactix next Monday.