There's as much authentic lament in George Konia's body language as there is in his words when he speaks about a bitterly disappointing season for Northland in this year's Bunnings Warehouse NPC competition.
And there's no shying away from the fact the Taniwha let slip away crucial games that cost the side a spot in the playoffs. Last season, they played in the Championship final but finished last this year with just a solitary win — against eventual Premiership champions Waikato — to their name.
In a candid interview, the Northland head coach spoke about a season of what-ifs and aspects of their game that need improvement before next year's campaign gets underway.
Konia reckons a number of factors played a part — some known, such as Covid disruption, while others not so much, like a lack of fitness early on in the competition.
"It was quite apparent earlier on, especially in the first two games that in some key areas our fitness was very poor," Konia said.
"Not everybody but a small percentage of our players were not fit enough to play at this level and, in these games, there are small margins and if players aren't fit and you can't get into the right spots at the right time, we're going to have a compromised performance, and that's what happened.
"With the first Covid, the break we had actually helped us, helped those players get up to a position where they could improve their fitness and get the team in a position where we can start competing with the other teams and not getting 50-point hidings like we got in our first two games."
Wellington mauled Northland 54-7 in Wellington in the opening round before Taranaki posted 48 points on Northland at Semenoff Stadium in Whangārei.
Next up, Konia's side took the Tasman Mako to the wire at home before losing 48-29.
"A bitterly disappointing season, especially if you reflect back to last year when we were in the final and finished second in the Championship, whereas this year we finished last so it's been a huge turnaround of events in a space of 12 months," he lamented.
Some of the younger players, he said, didn't really understand what it took to perform at this level when the fitness and understanding of the game needed to be a lot higher.
"We had three weeks off during Covid (level 3 lockdown) so our strength and conditioning coaches, along with our regular coaches, put in programmes for those players to work on every day and they came back in a lot better physical condition.
"When we came out of Covid, we had three days of contact prep that we needed to have before we played Tasman and we came out in a better physical and mental state.
"Upon reflection after that game, we all knew that we could have won that game but we lacked a little bit of composure, maybe didn't believe in ourselves as much as we should have, but we saw that in spades when we played Waikato."
Focus for the entire game as well as the ability to play deep into injury time and fitness are top of his mind before the 2022 season kicks off.
"I think we put ourselves in a position to win most of the games we played after Waikato and the last 20 minutes, maybe through a combination of inexperience and composure, through a lack of fitness, we let those games slip through.
"If you're fitter, you make better decisions, you're in the right places at the right time, and you are more often than not in a position to finish off those games."
He is not someone to make excuses but Konia touched upon the ramifications Covid had on his team's horrendous travel schedule for away games.
Northland were granted a travel exemption during level 3 to move to Tauranga to prepare for games against Otago and Bay of Plenty in Rotorua.
Konia said having to move players and the coaching staff out of Northland within 10 hours and time away on the road took their toll psychologically but that didn't take away the fact the Taniwha underperformed.
"After this season's performance, we're all feeling very disappointed and there's also a hollow feeling but we are working really hard on making sure this doesn't happen again.
"There's a lot of loyal fans there that might have lost a little bit of faith in what was going on but we can promise you we're working hard to make sure it doesn't happen again next year.
"We've gone through a rigorous review process, there's been some honest feedback from the players, coaches, and also from the management on how we are going to get better," he said.
The core of the Northland squad will be retained for next year and Konia said the coaching group would make sure some players have a better understanding of playing the game at a higher level.
He's losing one of his assistant coaches; Tui Raeli, who is moving closer to his family in the South Island.
Northland players already contracted for Super Rugby franchises are Josh Goodhue, Tom Robinson and Sam Nock (Blues) and Jack Goodhue (Crusaders). A couple more are expected to be named when the New Zealand Super Rugby Pacific squads are announced this morning.