ROUND five. That's the first time Dragons forward Tyson Frizell recalls being asked about his side's recent run of late-season fade-outs.
Not that he couldn't understand them. Despite running first, their ignominious exit from the 2017 finals race was still very recent history.
He certainly understands them now after his side suffered its fifth loss in their last six games to the last-placed Eels on Saturday night. Coach Paul McGregor can to, having fielded the same questions all year.
He conceded there's no shielding his players from them after being blown out 40-4 by a side battling to avoid the wooden spoon, a loss that saw them drop out of the top four for the first time this season.
“You can't close down the environment around them,” McGregor said on Saturday night.
What you can do is limit it, limit what they read and what they hear. You've certainly got to take a little bit out of what you've done so far this year knowing what you can achieve.
“When you go take the field you've got 80 minutes to protect that character. That's your 80 minutes that no one can take away from you. We'll work really hard around next time we go out there we can protect that character. All of us.”
Frizell has the same take on the chatter that's been so constant, it's starting to look like a self-fulfilling prophecy, saying there's only one way to find a compelling answer.
“[The questions] started since round five and I guess people can say it's starting to happen towards the end of the year,” Frizell said.
“People can say what they want, we can only control the things we do on the training field and behind closed doors. We're going into every week preparing as well as we can and try and change it.
"Belief's always there, for us it's about holding onto it throughout the game when things get tough. There's patches there where points go against us and heads start to drop.
“We're the only ones who can dig us out of this little hole we've put ourselves into and we've got that belief there underneath us because we've put ourselves in this position.
“We've just got to get a bit of that back. We've got ourselves in a position for a reason, we know we can play good footy. We just need to get back to the footy we know we can play.”
The loss to the Eels puts the Dragons in the sights of the Tigers, who outlasted the Raiders on Sunday to keep their finals hopes alive.
The Tigers produced one of their best performances of the year in defeating the Dragons 20-16 in round 18 and look a galvanised club after coach Ivan Cleary spurned Penrith's very public pitch for his services next season.
“With what's going on there, I know they're going to be playing for their coach and their club,” Frizell said.
“I think all the teams we've got at this back end either can't make the top eight or have nothing to lose.
“We saw Parramatta played the footy they can play [on Saturday] and all teams are going to want to finish on a high.
“The Tigers are playing some good footy and they did a job on us last time at Kogarah. They're still in the fight to make the finals and are going to try give themselves every chance to get there. We're going to be doing the very best to keep our spot, hopefully in the top four, but definitely the top eight.”