Squad on edge of familiar-looking abyss but hooker says things ‘feel different’ this year.

Here we go again.

The Warriors are in a bit of a hole - and it's hard not to avoid that sinking feeling.

Around this time of year, most Warriors fans have to take a deep breath; like persistent winter rain and high electricity bills, the Auckland club have become infamous for their late-season slides.

In each of the last four years the Warriors have looked on track for the playoffs, sometimes even top-four possibilities. But it hasn't transpired, and they've hurtled out of contention like an out-of-control skier. To add to the nerves, the Warriors face the Panthers tomorrow, against whom they have suffered season-defining defeats in each of the last four years.


So are the Warriors on the edge of a similar abyss in 2016, after losing three of their last four games while their rivals have been on an upward trajectory?

"I wouldn't say we are in a hole," said Thomas Leuluai. "We are playing well [and] performing better compared to a few months ago but there are still areas that need to be improved. The things we need to fix aren't major things, but they definitely need to be fixed."

Leuluai has grounds for comparison, having witnessed three late-season slumps since he returned to the club. In 2013, after a nightmare start, the Warriors salvaged their season with seven wins in eight matches and were labelled premiership contenders. But then they dropped three consecutive matches and slumped to 11th. Late in the following year they were nestled in the top six but contrived to lose three of their last four games - including a limp final-round defeat at Penrith - which meant they missed the playoffs on points differential. Shaun Johnson's injury was the catalyst for chaos last year, as they sunk without trace in the final third of the season, including hidings at the hands of the Dragons, Tigers and Cowboys.

"It feels different this year," said Leuluai. "People will have their own opinions but we are playing some good football, just probably not for long enough periods. It's not like we are playing bad football against bad teams."

The psychological and emotional impact of the last month is the vital unknown. The Warriors have been close, desperately close, but have suffered an unprecedented three golden point defeats in four games.

"It's been tough and you tend to feel sorry for yourself," said Leuluai. "But ... we have had tougher times this year ... and we have come through them. It's been a hard couple of weeks but nothing compared to what we went through earlier this year."

And that might be the key. This team looks more resilient than the Warriors squads of the last few years, and they haven't been on the wrong end of a heavy scoreline in more than two months. They've had a comparatively good run with injuries and look fitter than past Warriors outfits.

And while they are still prone to concentration lapses and conceding soft tries, the Auckland side showed steel to retrieve deficits against the Sharks, Sea Eagles and Raiders. It feels like all the ingredients are there to defy the history of the last four years - they just have to find the recipe.