It was a death by one thousand cuts for the Warriors on Saturday night but some of the incisions were far deeper, and more significant, than others.
Manly were truly wonderful in their overwhelming preliminary final victory in Sydney. It was a joy to watch them playing league the way it is meant to be played in the modern era.
Tough, fast, skilful, sporting. A few of their tries were breathtaking, and the only consolation for diehard Warriors supporters was the fabulous performance from Kiwi centre Steve Matai, who overcame a constant shoulder problem to show that he has developed into something way above being just a mad dog defender.
The Brett Stewart tunnel ball between the legs for a try was a highlight. There was plenty more from these Sea Eagles, and for those who missed it, best get the tape. In fact, Manly played a type of game that the Warriors might aspire to.
Manly are the bright new hopes while much-vaunted Melbourne continue to spiral down - image-wise - in a hail of vitriolic bullets.
Manly jabbed here, punched there. They worked the Warriors over all around the field, and left them humiliated.
It has been a wonderful ride, watching the Warriors in the second half of this season. Great stuff troops.
But overall, they only score a qualified pass mark for 2008.
The late season run was required because they had made such a hash of earlier proceedings. Ivan Cleary's squad still struggle to win big games in Australia - despite the Melbourne heroics - and if this pattern continues they will never win a title.
The three defeats against Manly this year indicate that they are far too susceptible against a fast game, and two defeats against Souths hint at concentration problems.
And most importantly, on Saturday their halves were found wanting. This was the most significant cut, in terms of future planning.
The cunning battler Matt Orford, who was struggling with injury, and a re-emerging Jamie Lyon had the Warriors for dinner. So while the size of the defeat was embarrassing, at least it should settle once and for all the question about whether the Warriors can persist with Nathan Fien and Michael Witt in the halves.
The answer is an emphatic no.
The issue has already been partlyaddressed of course, with the Warriors securing the 20-year-old Joel Moon from Brisbane.
To many minds, the Warriors' halves need a total overhaul. It's a tricky question, because there isn't a surfeit of quality halves around and those on the move are easily tempted by European money. Manly have used Steve Menzies at standoff sometimes, and the Storm have converted Greg Inglis.
Is Moon really the answer and could the Warriors, at some stage, have the pulling power, money and salary cap room to snare an established star in the halves? They should be preparing for this now.
The adage that the forwards lay the platform for the halves is only partly true, because good halves get their forwards on a roll. The Warriors had little momentum or structure on Saturday night, so it was impossible for any flair to emerge.
Two of the other big disappointments on Saturday were Wade McKinnon and Brent Tate.
McKinnon's lack of matchplay, due to his suspension for spitting, might have told. He lacked the old fire, perhaps fearing he would plunge himself into more trouble. The famed McKinnon cockiness appeared in short supply. Maybe the scope of Manly's game corralled him. The Warriors struggled to get offloads away, which is what he feeds off.
But his immaturity in dealing with match officials has cost the Warriors big. He needs to re-emerge in 2009 as the same player, but a different man.
Tate's combative attitude has rubbed off to great effect but his performances don't constantly equal the reputation. He is too easily held by desperate tackles, and tends to veer sideways. He hasn't set up much for those around him. This was a game for Tate to stamp his mark, but instead Matai stamped all over him.
The one saving grace for the crumbling Warriors was the sheer quality of Manly. Had Orford been in good goalkicking form, the result would have been settled by halftime, and the final score even more savage. For the Warriors to collapse so badly on the big stage is bewildering, but honour was partly saved by their opponents' magnificence.
Which is more than can be said for Cronulla, who were abysmal against stop-start Melbourne in a lacklustre game. It was a poor weekend in what has been an excellent series.
Never mind. Onwards and upwards. League revels in controversy and let's hope the grandfinal can live up to the treats in store for it.
You sometimes wonder if, in the interests of progressive build-ups, league should play games during the week and hold the controversies on the weekend.