AFTER each of the exhilarating highs this season has brought, Sam Burgess has had pretty much the same message.

“We’re not where we need to be yet, but we’re happy with how we’re going,” or words to that effect.

Now, looking back at this most crushing of lows, it is almost as if he was trying to warn us all as his words could not have rung any truer than in this Challenge Cup Final heartbreak.

Yes, the mere fact Warrington Wolves are back competing for trophies again can be taken as something of a victory based on how the past few years have been.

However, Wembley runners-up are never remembered. The only victory that truly counts is the one on the day and Wigan Warriors – the undisputed current standard-bearers of northern hemisphere rugby league – showed there is still a gap to bridge.

Most followers of Warrington would probably have acknowledged their status as underdogs as they piled into cars and onto buses and trains to flock to the capital, so defeat in itself will not have been something out of the blue.

Where most of the frustration will lie, however, is the manner in which they fell. Wire’s best against Wigan’s best would have been a mouth-watering contest, but Warrington never gave themselves the chance to be competitive.

Everything they had been doing so well seemed to desert them as they unfortunately saved their worst display of the season for the biggest of stages.

The warning signs came when their reaction to Mike Cooper’s early sin-binning was to try and score immediately only to make an error and concede a high-tackle penalty which saw Matt Dufty follow the former Warrington prop down the tunnel.

With the game barely two minutes old, there was nothing to be gained from going for the early kill and it set the tone for a frantic, disjointed showing that featured nine errors before half-time alone.

The fact they remained in the contest at the break was perhaps the biggest positive – they surely could not play any worse and if they fixed themselves up enough to get the crucial next score, they would have made a contest of it.

However, the 10-point deficit was one they never really looked like reeling in and as time, the scoreboard and numbers started to work against them as Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Jordy Crowther both succumbed to injuries, the writing was on the wall.

As such, the second half felt like a slow and painful death and by the time they strung together enough cohesion to ensure they would not leave Wembley having failed to score a try, it was too little too late.

That will only serve to increase their frustrations – the only period in which they performed anything like how they have been all year yielded points and despite them being so below-par, the margin of defeat was only 10 points.

Did they freeze? Only the players themselves will be able to say for certain, but the publicly available evidence appears to point to that.

Perhaps that is somewhat natural – Burgess was keen to point out post-match that for 12 of the 17 players involved for his side, this was their first ever experience of a final.

On such a big stage with so much on the line, nerves taking over is an entirely human reaction and it would go someway to explaining why so many players who have become so reliable had uncharacteristic off-days.

By contrast, the team across the field have been playing in – and winning – these types of games routinely in the recent past to the point they now hold every piece of silverware available to them.

Wire know where they need to get to and it is a road they clearly still have some distance to travel down, but what this cannot do is send them hurtling back to square one.

No matter the stage, dismissing everything positive we have seen up to this point based on one poor performance would be harsh and unfair.

This year’s Challenge Cup is officially in the history books and now, there is still half a Super League season to play with an opportunity remaining to keep themselves in contention for more silverware.

If lessons are learned from what happened at Wembley and the response is swift, their chance for redemption will come quickly.

As hard as it will be, Wire cannot allow this anguish to consume them.