IT was at the back end of 2016 that the plot started to unravel for Tony Smith, despite all the hopes and ambitions that present at the start of a campaign.

Knowing that necessary surgery for three of the year's best performers - skipper Chris Hill, Stefan Ratchford and Ben Currie - would keep all of them on the sideline for the beginning of 2017 was always going to make it a tough opening few months.

For Australian scrum-half Chris Sandow, the complex character with match-changing magic, to walk out on the club as he did in November was a further critical blow.

Although England international stand-off Kevin Brown was brought in from Widnes Vikings as his replacement, the season has shown what should have been known in that as a more structured player he did not have the luxury of time to bed in properly and be as effective in his first season as his capabilities would allow.

The momentous win against Brisbane Broncos in the World Club Series flattered to deceive, because any confidence gained was left shattered by Castleford's four tries in eight minutes at The Halliwell Jones Stadium a week later.

That game was a catalyst to players questioning themselves, the team and its methods. At that time, nobody knew Cas would go on to dismantle other sides with much more ease en route to securing their first League Leaders’ Shield success.

Behind the scenes there were difficult family times for some players, felt by all in the camp, and, as injuries started to mount, team selections were constantly changing and Wolves were finding it difficult to gain any rhythm.

The Super League competition reached round seven before Wolves had earned their first point in a characterful 22-22 draw with Hull FC.

It is the kind of start to a season that no team can afford with the convoluted system that sees the top eight and bottom four split into separate competitions after round 23.

Huge effort went into The Wire going on a sequence of just one loss in nine games.

Wolves were looking up again instead of down.

Conceding a last-minute try to arch-rivals Wigan in a Magic Weekend draw at St James’ Park hit some players hard though, especially with what was about to follow.

It almost seemed as if the effort expended into rescuing the season had taken its toll by the time of the arrival of the ludicrous second double-header weekend in six weeks.

The 40-0 hammering at Leeds Rhinos, the 38-12 crushing by Salford Red Devils and then the humiliating 44-4 bashing at Huddersfield Giants were the beginning of the end for Smith as Super League's longest serving coach.

There was no Challenge Cup run to save the season either, with a patched-up side failing to reach the semi finals for the first time since 2011 in a heart-breaking 27-26 home loss to Wigan in June.

The performance did provide encouragement for further fights to follow.

Despite only one loss in the remaining five Super League games, the damage had been done earlier in the year as The Wire dropped into the Super 8s Qualifiers to face playing ‘league’ matches outside of the top flight for the first time in the club’s history.

And all of this unravelled with the backdrop of growing consternation of supporters, many of whom indicated they were 'bored' by the style of rugby being played.

Strong wins against fellow demoted Super League sides Widnes Vikings and Catalans Dragons in the Middle 8s were followed with poor efforts against Championship sides Halifax and London Broncos.

Those two displays in isolation, considering the stakes of Super League survival, showed that the spark needed to fire was missing.

And they just about scraped hom against Leigh yesterday to finally secure their Super League place for next year.

The fall from grace, after last season's Super League Leaders' Shield triumph and two finals appearances, has been a long one.

And to that end, the buck always stops with the coach.