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: Run Metres – 3rd; Defence – 4th; Completions – 5th; Attack – 15th
What they've got: A very solid defensive side with one of the most underrated forward packs in the competition, albeit one that will be without NSW workhorse Trent Merrin next season. They've also got one of the strongest playmaking spines in the league, featuring three internationals, but still finished with the second-worst attacking record in the Telstra Premiership in 2015.
What they need: Some spark in attack to match their excellent defensive game. The combination of Josh Dugan, Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall wasn't enough to get the job done this year, but rumours of the possible recruitment of Wests Tigers skipper Robbie Farah to complete a star-studded spine could change that. Some added strike power elsewhere in the side wouldn't hurt either.
What they're getting: Kurt Mann's arrival from the Storm is a very handy signing, with Mann having produced some impressive performances in the backline in his young career so far. The Dragons have also added depth in the form of Canberra hooker/half Josh McCrone and Titans winger Kalifa Faifai Loa. One-time Kiwi Siliva Havili and former Sea Eagle Dunamis Lui are also on their way, as are Mose Masoe and Tyrone McCarthy from the English Super League.
Key 2015 stats: Tackle Breaks – 2nd; Attack – 9th; Defence – 6th; Run Metres – 8th; Penalties Conceded – 14th
What they've got: A 2014 premiership-winning outfit who simply ran out of puff before the end of the season, after winning just about everything in the previous 12 months. The departure of a few key forwards – most notably Sam Burgess – meant the Rabbitohs weren't quite the dominant force up front they were last year, and Greg Inglis wasn't his usual unstoppable self for much of the season after taking on the captaincy. Things won't get any easier with star hooker Issac Luke and forwards Glenn Stewart and Ben Lowe all leaving at the end of the season.
What they need: Some real grunt up front to support Burgess twins George and Tom, who couldn't quite make up for the absence of big brother Sam this season. The backline remains in good shape, with Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary forming a strong halves partnership and Dylan Walker and Alex Johnston two of the best young outside backs in the game, but the Rabbitohs couldn't match the forward packs of fellow contenders the Roosters, Broncos and Cowboys this year.
What they're getting: It's unconfirmed at the time of writing but promising young Bulldogs hooker Damien Cook is set to join Souths next season, with Cook and Cameron McInnes likely to share the dummy-half duties after Luke's exit. Meanwhile Wests Tigers enforcer Martin Taupau has been mentioned as a potential recruit – and his power game could be just what the Rabbitohs need.
Key 2015 stats: Tackle Breaks – 3rd; Offloads – 3rd; Completions – 4th; Line Breaks – 13th
What they've got: A team that was never as bad as last year's wooden spoon suggested. Some have been surprised by the Sharks' sixth-placed finish to the 2015 regular season but that's one rung below where they finished in 2013, and this year they had Michael Ennis in career-best form pulling the strings, Ben Barba providing spark off the bench and young guns Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes grabbing the spotlight.
What they need: Some more strike power in the backline. As their stats suggest, the Sharks already have one of the league's best forward packs but they struggled to break defensive lines on a regular basis this season.
What they're getting: The recruitment of Roosters pivot James Maloney – one of the key attacking threats from the highest-scoring team in the competition – is a huge signing, and the return of Chad Townsend from the Warriors is a boost as well. The pair could form a new halves combination, with Jack Bird shifting to the centres or even fullback, or Townsend could play a back-up to a Maloney-Bird halves pairing. The exit of Michael Gordon is disappointing but in Bird, fleet-footed winger Homes and former Dally M winner Barba the Sharks have a few quality options to replace him at the back.
Key 2015 stats: Line Breaks – 1st; Offloads – 2nd; Run Metres – 4th; Completions – 8th; Defence – 9th
What they've got: A superb forward pack that is amongst the best in the NRL for making metres and providing offloads, plus an emerging star in Moses Mbye and some star power in the backline led by the Morris twins. The ingredients all seem to be there but the Bulldogs will be a little disappointed to finish outside the top four in the past couple of seasons.
What they need: To match the best defensive sides in the competition. Des Hasler's team has no trouble breaking through the defensive line, thanks to a combination of second-phase play from the big men and genuine strike power from the backline, but it's the areas of defence and completion rates where the Dogs sit well behind the top-four sides. A team that throws the ball around like Canterbury does will always risk the occasional error, meaning defence will be the key area they can improve on next season.
What they're getting: No signings of note as yet, and NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson and veteran forward Frank Pritchard are both leaving the club. Hodkinson has essentially already been replaced by the emergence of Mbye, with Josh Reynolds set to regain his five-eighth spot full-time in 2016.
Next - Part 4: Storm, Cowboys, Broncos, Roosters