The first steps to salvation or ruin are often on the same path. This is why reading too much into the Reds' loss to the Brumbies on Saturday night is fraught with danger.
However, it is safe to say, for now at least, that the derring-do of the Reds is gone. The team that took the competition by storm with audacious flick passes, daring cross-field kicks and darting runs is missing. It has been replaced by an admirable outfit, but no longer an awesome one.
Flair was not the only ingredient that drove the Reds to Super Rugby success in 2011, there was a hard-edged pragmatism, too, but their imaginative attacking drive was a point of difference. It was asking uncomfortable questions of opposing defences, and the points and victories followed.
It was a stunning rise that engaged fans and gave Australian rugby supporters a reason to dream of a World Cup victory. After winning the title, the Reds were the blueprint for success, and they were not shy in letting the rugby community know. However, one title does not a dynasty make. The jury is still out on whether the 2011 success is a Please Please Me or a My Sharona.
Injuries and suspensions have played their part in the erosion. The dashing duo of Will Genia and Quade Cooper has barely played together in a red jersey since they held aloft the Super Rugby trophy. Genia was missing on Saturday, as was skipper James Horwill and stalwart Anthony Faingaa, but as Waratahs fans can attest, injuries as an excuse only holds water for so long, no matter how real the toll is.
The reality is that space for the Reds' back line is not there. When Genia returns, he will form a formidable halves pairing with Cooper but behind a forward pack that was demonstrably beaten by the Brumbies, and, on paper at least, behind the Waratahs' eight.
The Reds have stood still for too long. Queensland's rivals have strengthened. The moral fibre of Canberra has been boosted, if not by the return of Parliament then at least by the arrival of David Pocock, while Brumbies coach Jake White continues to engender improvement in a squad that was largely written off at the start of last year.
Meanwhile, Michael Hooper has returned to his home city to wear the sky blue jumper alongside Israel Folau, a man who is keen to make his mark rather than take them.
The Reds' main off-season signing was an exercise in loss limitation. Cooper was re-signed when all thought he was lost, but Scott Higginbotham departed to join Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor in the marquee mecca of Melbourne.
Expansion in the Australian conference has encouraged a "rob Peter to pay Paul" recruitment strategy where the poaching of established talent has proved a must for teams in AFL-dominated states. The rugby-playing states have been left to keep the production line rolling.
Queensland has suffered under this regime. No big names have been recruited, but homegrown talent has been developed. The new generation of Liam Gill, Ben Tapuai and Jake Schatz must now lead the way for future success.
All is not lost. Only a fool could believe that the Reds would not be contenders for a finals berth, but while their attack is stagnant or nullified, they play to the strengths of their cross-conference rivals.
For now, Australian hegemony is with the Brumbies.
The story Brumbies' rise has just begun, as stagnant Reds find to their cost first appeared on WA Today.