Australia are under-performing, leaving South Africa as the only southern hemisphere country providing the All Blacks with the top-flight opposition they need, according to New Zealand coach Steve Hansen.
Hansen conceded their big Bledisloe Cup wins this year came against a team who "are not quite right" and weren't at the same level as international heavyweights South Africa, England and Ireland.
The All Blacks recorded a loss and a narrow win against the Springboks in the Rugby Championship, followed by a one-point defeat of England and last week's 16-9 loss to an exceptional Ireland in Dublin.
The latter result has prompted many, including Hansen, to label Ireland as World Cup favourites in Japan next year.
The arm-wrestle in Dublin was a far cry from the three romps against Michael Cheika's Wallabies.
New Zealand won the Tests in Sydney, Auckland and Yokohama by a combined tally of 115 to 45, scoring 17 tries in the process. Yet they went tryless in Dublin.
Hansen said there was a noticeable step up required this year against the Springboks, who had been fodder for the All Blacks in recent Rugby
"There is no doubt the style of game that is played by South Africa is similar to the style played up here (northern hemisphere), " he told reporters.
"I still believe Australia are a really good rugby side. There is definitely something missing because they are not quite right and are not performing to the level they can.
"But the more we play teams like South Africa, Ireland and England, France which we have done this year it is good for us. We have had a bit if a preview so to speak."
New Zealand's season finishes with a Test against Italy in Rome on Sunday morning.