A warts-and-all Warriors team meeting - where some players confessed they weren't always giving their best in 2017 - helped convince Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to stay at the club, and set the wheels in motion for a much improved season.
Of all the flashpoints in a remarkable year for the Warriors, one of the most important came at a pre-season camp in Mt Maunganui.
That episode helped secure Tuivasa-Sheck's signature for the next four years and has paid immediate dividends, with the 25-year-old winning the Warriors Player of the Year award as he led the club back to the finals.
While his game in the loss to Penrith ended prematurely last night with a strained medial knee ligament, the disappointing finish did little to detract from an otherwise excellent season for the fullback.
Heading into 2018, Tuivasa-Sheck knew things had to be different. After much hype and hope, the club had an awful 2017, winning just seven matches. It was a gruelling campaign, particularly for the new skipper, who bore the brunt of the failure.
He wanted to stay in Auckland, and the signings of Tohu Harris, Adam Blair and Blake Green, among others, were encouraging. But Tuivasa-Sheck had to also see the difference. The first evidence came when he returned to pre-season training after a break following the World Cup.
"They were really working hard," said Tuivasa-Sheck. "They had two months before I got in and I was finding it tough to even stay with the front-runners. [Strength and conditioning coach] Alex Corvo was getting them to run through all these Ks and testings and drills, gym sessions ... it looked a lot more professional."
For Tuivasa-Sheck, another lightbulb moment came at the team's pre-season camp in Mt Maunganui in late January. There was three days of 6am breakfasts, strategy sessions and workouts.
They also did surf lifesaving challenges and defensive drills on the sand, as hundreds of intrigued beachgoers watched. But one of the most important breakthroughs came at an intense team meeting, where some home truths were aired.
"The boys were pretty up front," said Tuivasa-Sheck. "A lot of the boys [were] talking about how they weren't up to standard, admitting they weren't putting in their best efforts last year. It was disappointing to hear but that is often the best step moving forward ... to admit and be honest with yourself. I looked around and realised things might be different."
A month later, Tuivasa-Sheck re-signed with the club. He'd seen enough to be convinced that things were on an upward curve and was also sold on the legacy he could leave.
"Stephen Kearney and Cameron George presented the idea that turning up to training and trying to get a team that is not going so well to a place where they haven't been before ... that is a challenge in itself," said Tuivasa-Sheck.
"That was another angle they came up with [and] something I believe in. That's a challenge and I took it as another reason to stay on."
"I think he had seen a lot of positive signs around the team," said manager Bruce Sharrock. "But the real light that went on was that while day in, day out, he is striving to be part of a team that wants to win something, he is also in the position, as captain and leader, where he has to look no further than the mirror in four years if it hasn't worked. He's at the pointy part of the arrow and has the ear of everyone, from the coach to the CEO."
The evidence that Tuivasa-Sheck was out to prove something came in round one against the Rabbitohs. Aside from the hoodoo-breaking nature of the 32-20 victory in Perth, the standout memory from that game was his remarkable fifth-minute tackle of Alex Johnston. His Souths counterpart looked certain to score but Tuivasa-Sheck stopped him in his tracks a metre from the tryline, then drove him over the sideline.
"It felt good to come out and do something good," said Tuivasa-Sheck. "We spoke a lot before the match about playing with energy and I was a bit lost in the moment after making that tackle. Getting up to celebrate that moment with the team, we try to do that as often as we can. We try to celebrate as often as we can. That's the energy we get from each other."
That set a 'follow me' standard from the start which never relented. He was momentous for the Warriors this year, with his leadership, line breaking ability and lung-busting carries. He led the competition in try-saving tackles (six) in the regular season and also improved his ability to set up his outsides.
"It's been a big year but you know there is more to come from this club," said Tuivasa-Sheck. "That's the exciting thing. We are still getting better."