St George Illawarra gave glimpses of their ability and an exciting brand of attack in 2020, but ultimately another subpar season cost Paul McGregor his job as head coach.
Four losses to begin the year had some believing McGregor would leave the club a lot earlier than he eventually did after 14 rounds.
For a brief time it seemed like the Dragons, powered by much-improved fullback Matt Dufty and centre Zac Lomax, were a chance to complete a stunning turnaround and reach the finals.
Dragons' top five tries of 2020
However, three wins from their last seven matches was only good enough for a 12th-placed finish, six points adrift of Cronulla in eighth. St George Illawarra crucially lost five matches by six points or less.
A lack of continuity perhaps hurt the Dragons, with Ben Hunt changing between halfback and hooker and captain Cameron McInnes filling a hybrid lock/dummy-half role as the year wore on.
Anthony Griffin will take over as coach in 2021 after ex-assistant Dean Young, who is Cowboys bound, finished the season at the helm.
Home and Away record
The Dragons' first win came at their makeshift "home" of Campbelltown Stadium against Cronulla in round four amid COVID restrictions on venues.
They followed it up with a victory on the road over the Titans at Suncorp Stadium. Arguably St George Illawarra's best performance was at Kogarah's Netstrata Jubilee Oval when they belted Manly 34-4 in round nine.
The team only won from one from four games at WIN Stadium in Wollongong compared to two from six at Kogarah (one loss came as the visiting team against Cronulla).
Run metres differential
The Dragons didn't have much trouble advancing the football, ranking sixth for metres gained with 1756 per game – beating premiers Melbourne (1702m) and preliminary finalists Canberra (1661m).
However, St George Illawarra's good work in possession was negated by their defensive output. They conceded the equal-second most metres alongside the 15th-placed Bulldogs (1847m per game). Only the wooden spoon-winning Broncos were worse (1862m).
Try scoring – game time
The 20 minutes before half-time was when the Dragons were most dangerous, scoring 32 of their 63 tries (36.1 percent) between the 21st and 40th minute.
They bagged 16 tries (25.3 percent) from the 61st to the 80th minute. St George Illawarra scored the fourth-fewest four-pointers, with the Warriors (61), Bulldogs (49) and Broncos (48) below them.
Tries conceded – game time
The Dragons were relatively slow starters, conceding 24 tries (30.4 percent) inside the opening 20 minutes (they scored 12 in that period) while leaking another 11 (13.9 percent) from the 21st to 30th minute.
St George Illawarra were typically solid either side of the break, conceding only 14 tries in the 31-40 and 40-51-minute periods.
Tries scored from six-agains
With eight tries from six-again ruck infringements, the Dragons ranked 13th, besting the Bulldogs (7), Titans (4) and Broncos (4).
Metres gained from offloads
Newcastle-bound second-rower Tyson Frizell was the team's most prolific offloader. The Blues and Kangaroos star offloaded 19 times and his teammates made 166.8m from those passes.
Centre Zac Lomax only threw 11 offloads but they were very effective, leading to 140.8m gained. Ben Hunt (16 offloads, 98.9m), Cameron McInnes (14 offloads, 82.5m) and five-eighth Corey Norman (9 offloads, 75.8m) also had decent contributions in this department.
Lomax exclusively handled St George Illawarra's kicking off the tee, taking over from departed captain Gareth Widdop, and the 21-year-old did a fine job with 63 goals from 80 attempts (78.8 percent).
The Dragons had the fifth-highest success rate, just a shade behind Penrith (79 percent). The Rabbitohs, with top point-scorer Adam Reynolds as their kicker, had the best rate of 84.6 percent.
The Dragons were among a swathe of teams to use 31 players in 2020, one behind the top total of 32 shared by the Broncos, Raiders, Storm and Warriors.
Five men made their NRL debuts – Adam Clune, Cody Ramsey, Max Feagai, Jayden Sullivan and Eddie Blacker. Clune was the only one to play regular first-grade at halfback though, with the others not given a chance until the later rounds. Billy Brittain, Kaide Ellis, Tyrell Fuimaono and Brayden Wiliame made their club debuts.
Kicks in general play
St George Illawarra averaged more metres per kick (29) than any other team. The NRL average was 26.8m.
Halfback/hooker Ben Hunt averaged 33.8 metres per kick, with five-eighth Corey Norman (28.6m) and Adam Clune (28.5) behind him.
Belying their ladder position, the Dragons achieved the highest percentage of tackles from those attempted per game (90.6 percent). They missed only 5.9 percent of their tackles (1st in league).
St George Illawarra made the most overall tackles during the regular season with an average of 380.7 per game.