When Aiden Tolman badly injured his ankle in round four, the Bulldogs were in the hunt with one win from four games.
He returned last Monday against the Dragons – after 10 weeks on the sidelines – and his team has suffered 10 losses in 13 games.
There is no sugar-coating what has happened while he's been beavering away in the rehab unit.
"There are still some good signs but we know the season is pretty much done for us," Tolman told NRL.com in the ANZ Stadium sheds after the heartbreaking 18-16 loss to the Dragons.
It was the seventh time this Telstra Premiership season that Dean Pay's players had lost a game by six points or less.
"My game back today is pretty much what's been happening all year. We hit the lead in the back-end of games but just can't finish them off," he said.
"But we've still got plenty to offer in this competition.
"I thought we were the better team for most of the second half and half of the first half. So we need to turn 60 good minutes into 80.
"And they are top of the competition; a very good side. And we matched it with them.
"So we're there. We just can't get across the line and that's made it frustrating…. A very tough year.
"We're not used to being down the bottom of the ladder. So it is character building.
"We're back to Belmore this week against the Titans and that's a big boost for us."
It is Tolman's eighth year at the Bulldogs, after winning a grand final with Storm in 2009 and moving to Sydney after the 2010 season. Pay is his fourth head coach at the Bulldogs after Kevin Moore and Dean Pay – both in 2011 – and then Des Hasler for six years.
"It's a tough first season for him and that's not only on the field but everything that's going on as well," Tolman said, referring to the Bulldogs' new administration tightening their belts significantly after the post-Hasler, Ray Dibb and Raelene Castle eras of high-spending.
"That's part of footy and he knew what he faced when he took the job and he's done a marvellous job. You can see we're not too far off the pace.
"I know we're losing games but there is positive signs… there definitely is… I'm not just saying that. The Dragons kicked two penalty goals in the second half, we scored two tries and that was the difference.
"We need to be cleaner and tidier. But I feel strongly we're not too far off."
Having Tolman's clear head and refreshed body will definitely help in the race to avoid the wooden spoon,
"I'd like to think the boys like having me around and I definitely want to stay here for as long as I can," said the 29-year-old, who still has two-and-a-half years to run on his current deal.
That will also be music to Bulldogs fans ears as they prepare for more pain saying farewell to players to keep the club salary cap compliant.
The Morris twins Brett and Josh need to find a new home, along with fellow international Greg Eastwood. And Moses Mbye, who still had two years to run on his deal, is off to the Wests Tigers in 2019.
Rumours keep circulating that Aaron Woods may also be leaving.
"There will be a few changes here over the next 12 months and I'd like to see us back on top again," Tolman said, adding he hoped he would see out his contract which ends in 2020.
"I realise it's a two-way street and I've been round long enough to know that sometimes that's not necessarily the case.
"I've just got to keep playing well. I love this place – they've been great to me – and I'd like to think I've done some good things as well."
Tolman was a part of both the 2012 and 2014 grand final teams.