Interim NZ Warriors coach Todd Payten has described his side's 46-10 loss to the Cronulla Sharks as their "worst performance of the season".
From the first hit-up of the match, Payten knew this would be a long afternoon for his troops, as the Sharks ran in eight tries - three of them inside the first 15 minutes - to secure victory at Central Coast Stadium.
Former Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson was sensational for the Sharks, setting up two tries and scoring one himself.
The result leaves the Warriors 13th on the ladder - above the Broncos and Titans on points difference - and things don't get any easier with the back-to-back champion Sydney Roosters next week.
"I thought our physicality wasn't there from the start," says a frustrated Payten. "We weren't in the contest - that was by far our worst performance of the season.
"I asked them why that was our worst, and Tohu Harris said straight off the bat 'We were soft' and I agree with him.
"Reasons being? I'm not totally sure."
Warriors quartet Ken Maumalo, David Fusitu'a, Agnatius Paasi and King Vuniyayawa will all return to New Zealand to be with their families after next weekend's game against the Roosters, and Payten rubbished claims that the news of their departure has been a distraction.
"There's some clarity around when they're going. They [four players] are flying out the day after the Roosters game [next Saturday].
"I don't think it has - and it shouldn't have - any impact on the performance today.
"The last 2-3 weeks, our spirits have been really high at training. There's a good bond in the group.
"There are some families here in the facility, so there's a good feeling there at the moment - we're being well looked after.
"But we were way off from the starting siren with our intent and our physical approach to the game."
Payten sent a stern message to his players, urging them to muscle up next week and play with more intent, as he knows things could get much worse with a similar performance against the Roosters.
"At the very least, we need to get our physicality right, because we're playing a team that will put pressure on you with the way they carry the ball and the way they tackle.
"That's the first place they put pressure on you and they do it from the first tackle to the last whistle of the game."
"Included there is their speed, their skill and their shape. It's the way that they play the game - it's physical."
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