WOLVES’ frustrating season continues and supporters’ concerns increasingly grow.
A woeful defeat to troubled Bradford Bulls at the weekend left Wolves feeling the pain of as many Super League losses in 11 rounds as in each of the entire 2013 and 2012 schedules.
Tony Smith’s men are currently nearer to the bottom trio than they are to the top three, where Wolves have finished in the past four campaigns.
It does not make good reading and it is no surprise that fans are worried.
While some are seeing this as a transition year – confident that Wolves will come good again under the guidance of Smith and owner Simon Moran – others see the wheels falling off.
Either way, it is a fall from grace at this current time. Of course it hurts, frustrates and disappoints to see the offering now compared to the exhilarating and record-breaking rugby of 2011 for example.
After all the exciting times, putting an end to a long trophy drought, nobody wants it all to go belly-up now.
That includes the club’s chiefs, the ones who have turned this great club around since the move from Wilderspool Stadium. Among them there are no signs of panic.
It is perhaps the lack of improvement and progression over 11 rounds that is causing most concern, with the same mistakes repeating game after game.
Since the season started fingers have been pointed at missing creativity and cohesion, a wayward kicking game, the absence of on-field leadership, and the defence for being caught out too easily.
This sixth season is quite clearly the toughest period of Smith’s reign and he, along with his staff, are going to need all their knowhow and energy to put matters right.
When Smith arrived in 2009, he found a way to get the best out of the substantial resources at his disposal, going on to win the Challenge Cup in 2009, 2010 and 2012, the League Leaders’ Shield in 2011 as well as finishing runners up in the past two Grand Finals.
Now it is a rebuilding job, looking for younger players who have patiently developed their trade with under 20s and loan clubs to make a name for themselves.
Wolves have expended a lot of time, effort and money on talented British youth. They see it as the way forward, spending less on ready-made signings than they have done in the past.
And in some ways they cannot win – they would be slated for not giving their youngsters a chance, in the same way as they are now for not signing an established half back and additional forwards.
I’m not going to make excuses for some of the shoddy defensive work in the past two Super League matches, when some players appear to have switched off, nor for what is seen by many as lack of heart on occasions.
But there have clearly been issues to overcome, including a slow opening few weeks not helped by a large chunk of the squad not having had full pre-season training regimes due to operations or international duty in the World Cup.
An uninspiring start, a rise in squad injuries and a drop in confidence have made life tougher.
Wolves have leaned on more younger players for longer spells in this period than they had probably anticipated.
In these circumstances, five half-back combinations and stacks of other week-to-week changes have not helped to bed in a new style of play that is needed following the departures of commanders Lee Briers, Adrian Morley and Brett Hodgson.
Those world-class talents provided spine, heartbeat and soul as Wolves lifted to unprecented levels in the Super League era.
Their qualities as players and characteristics as leaders are irreplacable and the adjustments take time.
St Helens, the most decorated club since the advent of Super League, went through a similar scenario after losing the services of talismen like Sean Long, Paul Sculthorpe and Keiron Cunningham, while current table toppers Leeds Rhinos will face tackling the same prospect when Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow hang up their boots in the not so distant future.
Perhaps a major difference for them is that their shining lights steered the club to Grand Final glory, whereas Warrington’s didn’t when they were expected to.
Saints look as though they are contenders again, having added some major signings to their talented crop of youngsters.
In my view, Smith, without any scope on the salary cap for additional signings in 2014, will need to tread the same path as Saints next year to help bring out the best in this squad.
In the meantime, the senior players need to share in setting a fine example, showing their worth and providing much-needed leadership in matches as the team attempts to rid itself of some poor execution in attack and misjudgements in defence.
This season can still be rescued but a massive turnaround is needed from what has been seen so far.