Tommy Leuluai admits Wigan have struggled to shake off a hangover from the World Club Challenge in their last two outings.
Their spirited and promising display against the Sydney Roosters last month was followed by surprised back-to-back losses, to Hull FC and London.
And asked whether the WCC had taken its toll, Leuluai replied: “I’d love to say ‘no’, but I don’t know if I can.
“It was a tough game and we took a bit of a hit, mentally and physically.”
Which is not, he stresses, an excuse for their results. It was a “quiet bus ride home” after the 18-16 loss at the Broncos’ Ealing ground.
But after reviewing their performance, Leuluai saw enough positives to convince him Wigan will soon be a force once they stitch different areas of their game together.
“I knew it would take time for us, but even so, we had enough chances against London to win,” he said.
“Silly as it sounds, there are things we’re improving on.
“I know the results won’t show that, but there were areas we wanted to work on where we did really well, but others are dropping.
“We knew there’d be a period like this at the start – I did anyway.
“Through the year everyone has these spells. For us, it’s now. You can look at it two ways, and be critical and negative, or be positive and say we were one goal away from beating Hull, one try from beating London – who played very well, too.
“If we weren’t trying and if we didn’t defend like we did against London, I’d be very worried. But I know we’re not far away.
“Look, we’re disappointed – but I’ve been in these situations before, and there are enough signs for me to tell me that if we keep working hard we’ll get it right.
“We defended well against London, we attacked pretty good against Leeds. We’re just not putting both parts together yet, but once we do, I think we’ll be a side.”
Tonight’s televised game is set to see Dom Manfredi make his return after five matches out.
He underwent a clean-out operation of his knee during pre-season and is set to be thrust straight back into action on the right wing in place of Tom Davies, who – along with halfback Jarrod Sammut – has been left out.
Manfredi has not played since his two-try display in last October’s Grand Final, which was only his fifth appearance since returning from a two-year injury lay-off.
“Dom’s such a big part of the group, he’s a great guy to have around,” added Leuluai.
“I was surprised he came back like he did last season.
“I did my ACL once and for him to do it back-to-back, I can’t imagine what he was thinking when he returned but he came back and killed it. He was vital for us at the end of last season and to get him back now is a big bonus for us.”