Despite a promising start to the campaign, Warrington Wolves have been consistently inconsistent this year and face their worst finish in the league since 2009.
The 28-0 thrashing at home to Wigan on Friday was another low in what has been a miserable campaign for supporters.
Ever since John Kear labelled the side “the real deal” back in February, the Wolves have been anything but.
Here are ten reasons Tony Smith’s side have fallen behind the rest of the pack this season.
1) No leadership
Since the departures of Lee Briers and Adrian Morley to the Wolves squad, there has been a distinct lack of organisation amongst the players. Warrington have missed a player like Briers pulling the strings in the middle and someone of Morley’s calibre leading from the front.
The decision to make Joel Monaghan captain this season bemused most Wire supporters. Not only is the Australian stuck out on the wing, his relaxed demeanour prevents the winger from being the vocal leader the Wolves crave.
When the BBC placed a player-mic on Ashton Sims during Warrington’s Challenge Cup win over Leigh there were calls for the Fiji prop to be handed the captaincy in 2016 after showcasing his leadership qualities. Sims won’t be on the field for the full 80 minutes however.
The incoming Kurt Gidley from Newcastle Knights may provide some much needed experience and leadership.
2) Players not fulfilling potential
The decline of several players in the Warrington squad this year has been unsettling to watch, as certain names who were supposed to add quality to the side continually make simple errors.
Roy Asotasi is leaving at the end of the season after never adapting to the Super League. Ryan Atkins has gone from on the fringe of an England call-up to being one of the most inconsistent performers in the competition. Since his return to the side this month, Gary Wheeler has not looked like a player fighting for a new contract.
The list goes on.
3) Wrong mentality about defeat
There is an argument that Warrington have become victims of their own success and their numerous trips to Wembley and Old Trafford in recent years have allowed a complacent mindset to creep into the squad.
With rugby league’s new era, ‘every minute matters’ and it never seemed to translate to the Wolves that their poor form across the season would significantly impact their chances in the Super 8s.
A side can no longer win the Grand Final after finishing fifth, and after four consecutive defeats over the Easter period alarm bells should have been ringing as opposed to believing “we’ll put it right in September”.
4) Tony Smith’s relaxed nature
Criticising one of the most successful coaches in Super League and Warrington’s history is a brave step, but after witnessing several crushing defeats this season it has been infuriating to hear the man who manages the squad being so relaxed about the situation.
The players may well see a different side to Smith than the media does, but if not Smith’s calm and unalarmed demeanour has most likely filtered through to his players.
Each coach has their own style and personality but Smith rarely shows his anger and frustration in defeat like Shaun Wane, Brian McDermott or Daryl Powell do.
5) Too inexperienced
While there is nothing wrong with giving youngsters their opportunity, there is an argument that it has been unfair to ask so many young players who are still developing to bring success to the team week in week out.
The under 19s players are the future of the club but perhaps Warrington have asked too much too soon from their youngsters this year.
6) Points have dried up
Warrington’s points tally of 578 is their lowest since 2002 and nearly half the amount of points the Wolves scored in 2011 when they were awarded the League Leaders’ Shield.
The prolific Joel Monaghan has crossed the whitewash on just 11 occasions this season compared to 37 in 2014.
A definite cause for concern.
7) No kicking game
Admittedly Chris Sandow has now come into the side but a player of his kicking ability should have been brought in to the side as soon as Lee Briers retired at the end of 2013.
The Wolves have given countless opportunities to Richie Myler, Gareth O’Brien, Chris Bridge, Declan Patton and Gary Wheeler in the halves this season with none of them being consistent with the boot.
With Myler heading off to Catalans in 2016, it will be interesting to see if Smith attempts to buy another half-back to partner Sandow next season.
8) Changes to backroom staff
Should the departures of first-team coaches Willie Poching and Richard Marshall at the end of 2014 be underestimated?
Richard Agar was brought in this season in a move which looked to see him be Tony Smith’s heir. However rumours of unrest amongst Agar and the players suggest anything but and as a result Lee Briers has been given more responsibility with the first-team preparation.
Does Tony Smith need to draft in some new coaches in 2016?
9) Never replaced outgoing players
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but there in an increasing belief that Warrington didn’t fix the roof while the sun was shining between 2009 and 2013.
The likes of Lee Briers, Adrian Morley, Brett Hodgson and Gareth Carvell were all massive losses to the side with the squad still feeling the effect of their absences.
10) Injuries and a lack of strength in depth
Unless you’re a Salford fan in 2015, pointing to injuries seems an easy excuse for not living up to expectation.
However, when a squad is rocked by the loss of several key players it can highlight a lack of strength in depth.
The Wolves pose less of a threat in the forward line when Chris Hill and Ashton Sims are given a breather in matches, and Ben Westwood was sorely missed for the Challenge Cup semi-final defeat.
At the start of the season it appeared the Wolves had one of the strongest squads in the competition but they have been found out this campaign.
Warrington are now playing for pride in their final Super 8s matches as they aim to avoid finishing eighth.
The Wolves will look to bounce back in 2016, but if the ten reasons above are not addressed it could be another dismal season at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Rugby League enters the second stage of its exciting new era this weekend when the race for success in the Super 8s, the Qualifiers and the Championship Shield begins.
With the bottom four sides in Super League now joining the top four Championship sides in the battle for a place in the elite competition in 2016, the top eight Super League sides are now competing for a top-four finish and a chance at making the Grand Final in October.
With points from the first 23 rounds of the season being carried over; Leeds, St Helens and Wigan look to have already secured a top-four finish as it would take a calamitous final seven games to see either team miss out.
The team currently occupying fourth spot are Huddersfield and all the attention of the next seven rounds will be to see if Paul Anderson’s side are capable of holding on to the final semi-final spot or if they slip-up.
The Giants have accumulated 28 points from the opening 23 rounds and are ahead of Castleford with 26 points and Warrington who have 24.
While Hull FC only trail by six points that should be too much of a deficit to overturn in seven games.
The focus of the Super 8s will therefore be on those three sides with the outcome of the matches between the trio holding a huge significance.
Huddersfield’s fourth place finish after the regular season means they are rewarded with four home fixtures in the Super 8s, and home advantage could be crucial against Castleford and Warrington.
The Giants have interestingly won both home and away ties against the Tigers and Wolves so far this season.
Paul Anderson’s men have also avoided a difficult away trip to Catalans, and having won five of their last six games in the league are in pole position to take the fourth spot in the final table.
Remarkably, Huddersfield lost their opening three fixtures but have turned their season around.
The Giants have picked up two draws, at home to Leeds as well as a last-gasp Jermaine McGillvary try securing a point at the Magic Weekend against Catalans. How crucial those two points could be in the final standings remains to be seen.
The Giants begin their Super 8s campaign away to Wigan on Thursday night as they look to show their rivals that they are not giving up fourth spot without a fight.