By Dominic Brock (NRL.com)
The 2015 campaign was a season of extremes for the St George Illawarra Dragons – they had a disastrous opening fortnight, led the competition after 12 rounds, then suffered a seven-game losing streak.
Their defence was up there with the very best in the league; their attack was close to the worst.
After all that, a mid-table finish was the only way the year could pan out for the men in red and white, with a first-round exit from the finals a disappointing finish to the season but not a surprising one.
Where They Excelled: After losing their first two games of the season the Dragons defied expectations to climb to the top of the NRL ladder on the back of a string of brilliant defensive performances.
From Round 4 to Round 12 they conceded an average of just nine points per game – no mean feat in a stretch of games featuring opponents like Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Brisbane Broncos, Sydney Roosters, South Sydney Rabbitohs and Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks.
Where They Struggled: It was a good thing the Dragons’ defence was on song because their attack certainly wasn't.
Only the Penrith Panthers scored fewer points than the Dragons this year, and despite the presence of internationals Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop in the halves the Red V never really clicked with ball in hand.
That came back to bite them in the first half of their finals clash with the Bulldogs, when they failed to convert possession and territory into points, and while two late tries were able to force the game into extra time it wasn't enough to keep their finals hopes alive.
Missing In Action: The Dragons had decent luck with injuries this season, with Jason Nightingale, Dylan Farrell, Trent Merrin and Joel Thompson the only regulars to miss half a dozen games or more this season.
Although injuries to Benji Marshall and Thompson during their elimination final didn't make life any easier against the Bulldogs.
Turning Point: After a dozen rounds, the Dragons were sitting pretty atop the NRL ladder after winning eight of their past nine games – with a defensive record that no other team in the Telstra Premiership could match.
But a 29-16 defeat against the Bulldogs turned the tide and started what would become a seven-match losing streak, briefly dumping the Red V out of the top eight.
Wins against the Newcastle Knights, New Zealand Warriors and Panthers took them back into finals contention but the poor second-half of the season meant the Dragons didn't go into the finals with high expectations.
Hold Your Head High: The whole Dragons forward pack can take a bow here.
Not too long ago the Dragons forwards were being mocked to their faces by Willie Mason for lacking size and grunt, but they proved their doubters wrong with a superb first half of the season.
Again, defence was the key – with Leeson Ah Mau and Mike Cooper amongst the best in the league for tackle effectiveness – but the hard yards up the middle from the likes of Trent Merrin, Jack de Belin, Tyson Frizell and Joel Thompson were also vital.
Benji Marshall was much improved after some erratic 2014 performances, becoming a more reliable playmaker alongside the excellent Gareth Widdop.
And Euan Aitken looks a star of the future after a breakout rookie year in the centres.
2016 Crystal Ball: It's hard to imagine some fans were calling for Paul McGregor's sacking at the start of the year, but while the coach put those fears to rest he needs to find a new attacking formula for next season if the Dragons are to join the elite premiership contenders.
They have some handy pickups for 2016 in the form of Melbourne Storm's Kurt Mann, Warriors youngster Siliva Havili and former Rooster turned St Helens star Mose Masoe, but have lost the likes of Penrith-bound Trent Merrin and the retired Dan Hunt.
With the bulk of their current team intact, the expectation will be for a greater attacking output next year – and with Marshall, Widdop, Nightingale and the hugely talented Josh Dugan on deck there's no reason why this team can't score their fair share of tries.
Conclusion: Making the finals counts as a successful season for the Dragons in 2015, especially after what could have been a disastrous start to the campaign.
McGregor instilled in his side a defensive work ethic that is often the hallmark of a premiership-winning outfit – they just need to find the attacking game to match.
Position (after 26 rounds): 8th
Position (after the Finals): Eliminated in Finals Week 1
Home Record: 8-4
Away Record: 4-8
Longest Winning Streak: 6 Games (Round 3-8)
Longest Losing Streak: 7 Games (Round 13-20)
Players Used: 30
Tries Scored (After 26 Rounds): 71
Tries Conceded (After 26 Rounds): 73