WELLINGTON - Chiefs co-captain Liam Messam is warning rivals not to write off their chances of retaining the Super Rugby title just yet.
The two-time champions have won just once in their past six matches and lost their spot on top of the New Zealand conference to the Hurricanes last weekend, when they were beaten by the Brumbies.
But the Chiefs remain in the top six and Messam says the team are embracing the challenges ahead, starting with the Lions in Hamilton on Saturday.
"We're still in the hunt, we're still there and we still believe that we can win it," he said.
The Lions game offered a great opportunity to keep pace with the Hurricanes, who are just one point away at the top of the conference.
"If we can put a great performance in on Saturday night, then I personally believe that's going to kick-start our season."
A consistent 80-minute performance has eluded the injury-hit Chiefs so far, and they have shown only patches of the form that took them to the title in 2012 and again last year, when they were the competition's leading try-scorers.
Now trailing the Hurricanes, Cheetahs and Brumbies, the Chiefs have managed just four tries in the three games since they returned from South Africa.
Having All Blacks five-eighth and Chiefs co-captain Aaron Cruden out with a broken thumb has not helped matters.
They have also struggled at lineout time in the absence of experienced hooker Mahonri Schwalger, who was forced from the field with a head knock against the Brumbies, in what was his first game back from a knee injury.
"That's where the frustration is coming because we know the potential of our side and how good we can be," Messam said.
"It's a bit of (lapse) in concentration and a bit of responsibility on each individual to perform for a full 80 minutes, not just in patches.
"We've got a lot of young guys, and guys who weren't here in 2012 and 13.
"It's a learning curve, not just for them but also for us older players as leaders."