Warriors captain Simon Mannering said their last-round 22-6 loss to Penrith was proof that his team didn't deserve to play finals football, despite their late-season dash for September football.
The Aucklanders' early-season struggles forced then-coach Matt Elliott into falling on his sword in early April, but they entered the final game of the regular season in control of their own destiny.
In the end though, they were outclassed by a well-drilled Panthers side that led from start to finish.
"It wasn't an ideal start to the year, obviously with a few changes. But there's definitely some improvements we've made," Mannering said post-game.
"We gave ourselves opportunities through the year to be there in the eight. I guess it showed tonight we didn't quite deserve it.
"It's unfortunate because we've worked pretty hard but obviously not good enough. So that'll hurt the team, not to get any reward. It's something we'll have to learn from for next year."
Given the enormity of the occasion and what was at stake, Mannering was at a loss to explain their lacklustre start.
By the time the Warriors returned to the sheds at halftime, they had completed less than half of their 13 sets and were staring at a 16-0 hole with their season flashing before their eyes.
"We didn't have that spark, which is a shame because we had everything to play for. I thought we were trying to get it going but we weren't quite getting there," Mannering said.
"They're a great side. We just couldn't build any pressure. Letting them get out to a 16-point lead didn't help."
A length of the field try to Manu Vatuvei minutes upon resumption inspired his team-mates and while momentum quickly turned in their favour, the Warriors were unable to convert their possession into points.
"Obviously we scored a great try from Manu and then got held up over the line," said coach Andrew McFadden.
"I thought we had all the momentum at that stage, but again a couple of costly errors and a couple of decisions went against us. We just weren't tough enough at the time to get ourselves out of it."
Added Mannering: "We were still very positive coming out of halftime. We felt we had a shot. We felt we were slowly getting back but a few things didn't quite come off for us. I guess it was the story of our night."
McFadden, who was handed a three-year contract back in May, took the big picture approach after the loss and was confident the club was now pulling in the right direction.
"On the surface it's really disappointing, but certainly within the group we know we've made some real progress this year," he said.
"I certainly know the direction we need to go, but it would've been nice to get that result and get in the eight for all the work we've done. I guess it's a dose reality of where we still sit."