In the midst of a strange year for the New Zealand Warriors, a change of coach is the latest challenge for the group to digest.
Head coach Stephen Kearney was fired on Saturday following Friday night's 40-12 loss to the South Sydney Rabbitohs, with Todd Payten stepping up as interim head coach.
With the Warriors together at the team base in Terrigal in New South Wales, Payten said the decision to move on from Kearney created an eerie environment.
"It's almost like we've had a death in the family, it was a really strange atmosphere yesterday," Payten told media on Sunday morning.
"I'm just assuming it was the performance Friday. It was out of the blue. Very surprising and shocking and I can only put it down to the performance.
"It doesn't help the situation at the moment. It is what it is and as cold as it sounds we need to move forward."
The Warriors missed a number of opportunities against the Rabbitohs and did not have a great defensive showing, with the loss seeing them fall to 2-4 for the season.
Kearney addressed the players on Saturday afternoon to relay the news that he would no longer be at the helm, and Payten said the group was visibly upset upon hearing the news. The former Kiwis coach led the team to the playoffs in 2018, but leaves the club with a 32-46-1 record and two years remaining on his contract.
"It hit them pretty hard in the face and their first emotion was they were upset," Payten said.
Payten will take the reins for the time being while the Warriors management group begin the process of looking for a new fulltime coach.
Payten said he hadn't had time to put much think too far into the future, still digesting the news himself, but indicated he would be interested in holding the top job fulltime.
"I have an ambition to be head coach. When I spoke to (club chief executive) Cameron (George) yesterday he said they'll open it up and find the best candidate which is fine by me, I think this club deserves the best coach available. I'm not in any rush and this will be a good test for me. We've got some challenges here at the moment."
The first challenge to face Payten in his new role is getting the team ready to face the perennial title contending Melbourne Storm on Friday night.
The Warriors have a few issues to address heading into that match, with Lachlan Burr and David Fusitu'a both being unable to finish the match against the Rabbitohs after failing head injury assessments, while Wayde Egan is facing a short stint on the sidelines after being hit with a grade two contrary conduct charge.
"We're going to have to think about what order we do things in terms of our staff; we had a few injuries and a few issues pop up from the playing group on the weekend so we're going to have to get across that pretty quick," said Payten.
"We'll compete, scrap and fight for everything that's available. We'll have to regroup, connect again through the week and just go for it. Not just this weekend but moving forward, we're going to try be more consistent, compete and be tougher. They're two or three words that spring to mind when I think about improvements and what I want to see in our team."