Emotionally drained after Canterbury's season went down the tube in a single afternoon, Josh Reynolds was visibly shaken as he contemplated life at the Bulldogs without fullback Ben Barba.
In the aftermath of a disappointing 22-6 defeat to Newcastle in the elimination final at ANZ Stadium on Sunday afternoon, there was little to smile about for last year's grand finalists.
Knights dump Bulldogs out of the NRL finals
Newcastle ended the Bulldogs season in a match that saw Brisbane Broncos-bound Ben Barba suffer a serious leg injury.
They slumped out of the competition and an injured Barba, whose year off the field has generated more headlines than his inspired season last year, ended his Bulldogs career on the back of a medicab.
While many Canterbury supporters will be glad to see the back of Barba given the distractions his personal saga has created, five-eighth Reynolds said it would be very difficult to say goodbye to him.
''It's very hard … especially for myself and Ben,'' said the No.6, who is the same age as the Broncos-bound fullback. ''We've been together for a while. We've got a culture there at the Bulldogs and Benny was a big part of it. He is going to be missed. I wish him and his family all the best.''
Reynolds was close to tears as he discussed the prospect of farewelling last season's Dally M player of the year.
''He's a mate. You love hanging around your mates,'' he said. ''He's had his problems but everyone does. Obviously the spotlight was on him because he was Dally M player last year and he went so good. He's a class player and I'm sure he'll be great for the Broncos.''
It will not be easy for the Bulldogs to sit back and watch next Saturday's semi-final between the Knights and Melbourne. Canterbury were dominated by an outstanding Newcastle forward pack but let themselves down throughout. Crucially, they were unable to capitalise when Newcastle were reduced to 12 men early in the second half and, earlier in the match, could not take advantage in an extended period attacking the opposition line.
''Errors cost us and that's been the story all year,'' Reynolds said. ''We were a bit all over the place there. People are going to say things, and say it was a wasted year, but we've just got to build for next year.
''It's hard to explain - a whole season just down the drain because of one performance. We know we're so much better than that - that's probably the worst part about it. It's hard to cop.
''It's really hard to come to terms with, with all the talent that we've got.
''We'd be lying if we said we'd had a good year. We were up and down - we'd have a good win and lose the next week. You can't win premierships like that. You see the big sides; they win three in a row and that's how you go all the way. We've got to learn from this.
''We can say 'we'll learn from it, we'll learn from it' but if we don't come back next year with a better attitude the same thing is going to happen.''
In a dramatic five minutes after half-time, Newcastle forward Chris Houston was ordered off the field and Barba, after writhing in pain, was then escorted away on the back of a medicab with an ankle injury.
Houston was marched to the sin bin for a professional foul, colliding with Canterbury captain Michael Ennis as he roamed back after an intercept and a long break from Reynolds, but the Knights survived the shortfall in personnel and nudged a further two points ahead to lead by eight.
The outlook was anything but as bright for Barba and the Bulldogs, who combined lethargy with repeated lapses in discipline to fold in the final half-hour.
Barba's season and career at the club would have been over even if last year's grand finalists had staged a miraculous comeback in the closing stages.
Barba told Bulldogs trainers he ''heard a crack'' after having his leg caught in a tackle by Knights playmaker Jarrod Mullen and said later he had suffered a recurrence of the ankle syndesmosis that had plagued him in the lead-up to the finals.