The performance from the New Zealand Warriors in their elimination final against the Penrith Panthers largely mirrored their entire 2018 season -- starting well before collapsing mid-stream and failing to ever recover. It marked another disappointing end to a season that promised so much for a team that always seems to be heavy on talent but limited in application.
It all looked promising on Saturday night as they raced to a 12-2 lead on the back of two basic defensive mistakes by the Panthers. The first was to expect Issac Luke to pass from dummy half when within five metres of the line. The second was a mathematical error, allowing the Warriors to move the ball right where they clearly out-numbered the Panthers. Warriors fans were cheering, but the Panthers had them exactly where they wanted them -- 10 points up with a mountain of time remaining.
It was just like the start to the season, which saw the Warriors win six of their first seven games. Once again the air was full of promise, before the Warriors' collective foot eased off the throttle and cruise control was allowed to take over.
The Panthers took advantage and, superbly led by James Maloney, they scored the next three tries to take an 18-12 lead into the break. It was a period of the game that Warriors coach Stephen Kearney would later rue.
"We didn't give ourselves the best opportunity tonight. Obviously, I thought we started the game fairly well, but some fundamental areas through the middle part there, which we just gifted them momentum back into the game," Kearney said.
"I thought we just let ourselves down through 15 minutes of the first half."
Injury would play its part in this game, as it had throughout the season, with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck leaving the field after 30 minutes with a knee injury. Whether it was the shock of seeing their captain depart or the obvious hole he left in their attacking prowess, the Warriors never really looked like scoring another try.
With 25 minutes remaining and trailing by 12 points the Warriors started hitting it up the middle, almost to the total exclusion of any expansive play. Maloney took the opportunity to extend the lead to 13 with a field goal, yet still there was a sense that the visitors could pull off a miracle fightback if only someone like Shaun Johnson would put on some magic. It never eventuated.
Kearney was calm after the game and insisted the team would be better for the experience.
"It was frustrating, but that's finals footy isn't it? There's pressure on every play. We didn't execute good enough and made basic errors. That's the lesson for this group, that there's a lot more at stake when it's like that," Kearney said.
"It's a pretty disappointed dressing room. We all said that we didn't put our best performance out there and we have made some progress this year, there is no doubt about that. We're really determined to make sure we improve and we have to be better.
"There were definitely some learnings for some of our guys who haven't played finals footy."
Forward Tohu Harris, who took over the captaincy in Tuivasa-Sheck's absence, was philosophical about the result.
"There's a lot of guys a bit disappointed, but looking at the positive side I think there's a lot to learn from this game," Harris said.
"The Panthers showed us a lot that we can learn, showed us what finals footy is about. We got a lead early in the game and they clawed their way back in. They changed the momentum, they held onto it and they were relentless with it. You see the good sides do that in finals footy and it's something that we can definitely learn from."
Just how many years of gaining vital experience and learning from their failings can Warriors fans put up with? The team is bristling with international stars and is clearly more talented than most in the NRL, yet year after year they fail to deliver that elusive premiership.