Warriors' pack problems again exposed as club enters familiar territory
OPINION: Here we go again.
It has become cliche to use that phrase with the Warriors, but how else do you sum up a season that appears to be headed in the exact same direction as the previous five? And we all know how they ended.
After last week's second-half capitulation against the Panthers, the Warriors were in desperate need of a big response against the Dragons in Hamilton to show they had not fallen back into their old ways.
Instead, their deficiencies upfront were again exposed in the 30-14 loss by a dominant Dragons pack that ran riot for much of the match.
It may not quite be time to hit the panic button but after 11 rounds, the Warriors are in the same position as last year - with four wins and seven losses - and once again head into the Origin period having to play catch-up to break their finals drought.
The Warriors are currently recruiting players for next season and Friday night's opponents have provided the perfect blueprint to follow.
For the last few seasons, St George Illawarra have been investing in quality forwards to the point where they now have one of the strongest packs in the competition.
And the Warriors were powerless to stop them on Friday.
The Dragons were without their two best attacking players in Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan but it didn't matter as the likes of Paul Vaughan, Russell Packer and Tyson Frizzell rumbled through the middle, creating quick play-the-balls for the backs who ran through some questionable edge defence.
Josh McCrone and Kurt Mann should never outplay Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran but with their forwards struggling, the Warriors' star halves were barely a factor.
The Auckland club's pack has been their Achilles heel since round one and it is hard to see that changing for the rest of the season. A replacement for Kieran Foran is obviously important but the priority has to be beefing up the middle.
That is for 2018, though, and Stephen Kearney has to find a solution for the rest of the year.
Of course, he still has time to turn things around. To be fair, there were some encouraging signs in April against some heavyweight teams.
And with the Origin period beginning next week it would surprise no one to see them beat Brisbane at Mt Smart and go on to be right in the mix for the top eight by mid-July.
However, the last two weeks have shown little to suggest they can deliver in the crunch games leading into the finals.
And that is when they will ultimately be judged.