We analyse each NRL club's strengths and weaknesses in 2015, what ingredients they should be chasing next season and who they have recruited already for 2016.
Key 2015 stats: Attack – 12th; Defence – 13th; Completions – 15th; Offloads – 9th
What they've got: An erratic team with several talented performers, particularly the game's most valuable winger Semi Radradra and classy playmaker Corey Norman.
What they need: Consistency. The Eels had a habit of blowing leads on a regular basis this year, ranking second-worst in the NRL for completions and in the bottom four teams for defence. They're no longer the perennial wooden spoon contenders they once were, but finding a winning mentality is the next step if the Eels are to become finals contenders.
What they're getting: Three players who know how to win, in Manly and New Zealand playmaker Kieran Foran, NSW and Australia second-rower Beau Scott and in-form fullback and goalkicker Michael Gordon. All three are very good business for the Eels, with Scott and Gordon bringing class and reliability in key positions and Foran capable of revolutionising the team. A forward pack featuring proven veterans Scott and Anthony Watmough and spine of Gordon, Norman, Foran and Nathan Peats is a strong foundation for a very decent NRL team.
Key 2015 stats: Offloads – 1st; Ball Control – 16th; Attack – 16th; Defence – 8th; Line Breaks – 8th;
What they've got: A team with a lot of depth and good fighting qualities that managed to dodge the wooden spoon despite being absolutely ravaged by injuries this season. They were the worst attacking side in the competition in 2015, but barely had their first-choice playmaking spine together all year. They gambled in attack with more offloads than any other team, so it's probably no coincidence that they also coughed up the most errors in the league. Despite their poor season Penrith's defence was actually better than the Bulldogs'.
What they need: An injury-free season would do nicely, but beyond that some genuine star power is what they're lacking compared with the very top teams in the league.
What they're getting: NSW forward and former Dragons workhorse Trent Merrin is a great signing, giving the Panthers pack some quality go-forward to compliment the defensive prowess of Elijah Taylor and the attacking creativity of Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey. He's one of several new faces at Penrith next year along with the Tigers' Holden Cup Team of the Year five-eighth Te Maire Martin, who could provide some extra spark in the halves if injuries hit Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace again next season.
Key 2015 stats: Attack – 3rd; Defence – 12th; Ball Control – 1st; Possession percentage – 16th
What they've got: A quality attacking side, led by 2015 recruit Blake Austin and goal-kicking skipper Jarrod Croker. The Raiders made big strides this season after some smart off-season recruiting, including the arrivals of hooker Josh Hodgson and second-rower Iosia Soliola from the English Super League. But their defence still needs some work if they are to break into the finals next season.
What they need: To improve their defensive game, and to keep up the intensity week in, week out. The Raiders were brilliant in patches but struggled for consistency in 2015 – they beat the reigning premiers and got within a whisker of beating powerhouses the Cowboys and Storm this year, but also suffered three straight defeats against strugglers the Wests Tigers, Sea Eagles and Titans late in the season.
What they're getting: The big "in" for 2016 so far is Titans playmaker Aidan Sezer, who is likely to partner Austin in the halves for the Green Machine next season. Sezer has an excellent kicking game which should compliment Austin's natural running game nicely, and should give the Raiders a settled halves combination for the first time in years.
MANLY SEA EAGLES
Key 2015 stats: Attack – 10th; Defence – 10th; Run Metres – 15th; Line Breaks – 15th; Tackle Breaks – 16th
What they've got: A club with a winning mentality that ran aground this season through a combination of injuries and unwelcome off-field distractions. The Sea Eagles' late-season charge didn't earn them a finals spot but did at least show that their elder statesmen are not finished yet, but the exit of Kieran Foran is a blow. On the positive side, the retention of Daly Cherry-Evans and the rise of young guns Jake and Tom Trbojevic are great signs for Manly's future.
What they need: A new five-eighth to take Foran's spot, for one thing. Manly's running game also needs to improve significantly next year – they ranked second-last in the NRL for metres gained and line breaks in 2015, and last for tackle breaks. That means new blood is needed up front, with the Sea Eagles already possessing a star-studded backline and the electrifying Tom Trbojevic waiting in the wings.
What they're getting: The Manly forward pack has already been strengthened for 2016 with Queensland Maroons hard man Nate Myles a big-name recruit while versatile back-rower Lewis Brown and talented dummy-half Apisai Koroisau arrive from Penrith. They also get Matt Parcell from NRL State Champion side Ipswich Jets, who will compete for a hooker or half role. That's just a slice of the high turnover of players at the Sea Eagles next season, with the club in the midst of a generational change after the exits of Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough last year. They've also got a new coach in Trent Barrett, who will be keen to put his impression on the squad as soon as possible as a high-profile replacement of club favourite Geoff Toovey.
Part 3: Dragons, Rabbitohs, Sharks, Bulldogs
Part 4: Storm, Cowboys, Broncos, Roosters