IN July last year, the NSW Waratahs stooped about as low as you could possibly get.
Trudging from nib Stadium after a 40-11 thumping at the hands of the Western Force, the Waratahs had just finished a season that yielded four wins from 15 games, low-lighted by home defeats to Super Rugby easybeats the Southern Kings and Jaguares.
From the glory of a Super Rugby title in 2014, it was a sharp and alarming decline that had captain Michael Hooper all but lost for words.
"It [the final game] was a case of, 'I can't believe we're here again'," Hooper said.
There was, however, a firm commitment from a player whose commitment on the field can never be questioned.
"We won't be back here again," Hooper said.
"We can't have another season like that."
Seven months on, and with this year's Super Rugby season on the horizon, Hooper oozes confidence when outlining how the Waratahs, which now include Berry’s Will Miller, have come back bigger and better.
Any comparison to what happened during the torrid and catastrophic season of 2017 is quickly shut down.
"At this point it's foolish to keep talking about last year," Hooper said.
"We've stopped talking about last year, we've dealt with it and understood where we need to come to. We're in good shape and all eyes are pointing forward."
After witnessing his side concede 40 points in five of their past six games, at the time coach Daryl Gibson described the squad's morale as "pretty low".
The former All Blacks centre is under significant pressure to build a rejuvenated Waratahs side and this is something he wholeheartedly accepts.
As the carnage of last season unfolded, Gibson refused to blame players for their inept defensive performances, saying it would be a pretty low thing to do.
Ahead of his third year in charge at NSW, Gibson has put his players on notice when it comes to leaking points.
"We have prioritised our set piece and defence and for me defence is an effort thing and to be able to perform that you've got to be fit," Gibson said.
"That's a big foundation block for us. That's where we're spending a lot of our time.
"We've tweaked little things but from all the discussions I've had with a lot of defensive coaches, defence is very simplistic in terms of it's an effort-related thing.
“You have to be willing to make sure you're in the right position to make the tackle.
"We've put a premium on being the best and not carrying any reputations into that.
“We want to make sure all our players have an opportunity to perform.
“There's some good signs."
Asked how the squad had shaped up, Hooper replied: "I think we've got a really good base.
“We've had to get our guys to play at a level of enthusiasm and fitness that we can now get the structures in play the way we want to play."
The Waratahs begin their season next Saturday against the Stormers before a two-week road trip to South Africa and Argentina where they will face the Sharks and Jaguares.
Last year NSW scraped by in round one to beat the Western Force by six points before losing to the Lions and Sharks in Africa.
With a brutal May greeting the Waratahs, where they have to play four New Zealand sides in a row, Gibson knows the importance of the first month of competition.
"We've learnt from that experience last year, we got a few things wrong," Gibson said.
"We're going into a period where you can't train to the same level of intensity or volume, so that's why we've placed a premium on making sure we're well equipped for that period."
Hooper added: "If we talk about that Kiwi month, this is going to be a nice initiation to the fact we're going to have a tough start to the season.
“That will put us in good stead later. I really like the format."
Firstly though, the Waratahs will get an opportunity to gauge themselves on Thursday against the Melbourne Rebels at Brookvale Oval.
Positions will be up for grabs and in particular there is plenty of interest around what back row Gibson will pick for round one.
"I'm happy I'm not a selector," said Hooper, the incumbent Wallabies number seven.
"Daryl has got a tough job there. He's got a lot of options.
"I've been impressed with Will [Miller], he had a good game in Queenstown. Lachie Swinton is a big man.
“You've got Jack [Dempsey], Ned [Hanigan], Michael Wells and Kelly Meafua. Daryl's got his work cut out to pick a squad."