Dragons 2016 season review
After making the finals for the first time in four seasons last year, hopes were high for the St George Illawarra Dragons ahead of the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership season.
Last season the Dragons were the only team apart from eventual runners up Brisbane to be eliminated from the finals by a respectable scoreline.
This season never went to plan however. Once a defensive powerhouse, the Dragons were inconsistent at best in 2016.
Where they excelled: The Dragons had no issues getting up the right end of the paddock despite their point-scoring woes (see below). The Dragons were the fifth-biggest metre-eating club across the NRL (1551.1 metres per game) and also produced the fifth-most tackle breaks (28.3 per game). Jason Nightingale and Euan Aitken were the Dragons' biggest contributors across both areas.
Where they struggled: The same old problems plagued the Dragons this season – none more so than their point-scoring woes. The Dragons scored just 36 points more than wooden spooners Newcastle who won just one game all season. Co-captain Gareth Widdop's goal-kicking percentage of 70.1 didn't help while renowned try scorers Nightingale (six) and Josh Dugan (two) struggled to cross the white stripe.
Missing in action: Dylan Farrell (back) and prop Mose Masoe (ACL) were ruled out for the season before a ball had been kicked. Retiring co-captain Ben Creagh last played in Round 3 before back-to-back knee surgeries ended his career. Joel Thompson and Leeson Ah Mau had their troubles at the judiciary. Most importantly star fullback Dugan missed seven games and two Origins due to separate elbow and jaw surgeries. Benji Marshall was made a scapegoat for the Dragons' on-field woes despite a coping with a constant hamstring injury that kept the playmaker out for eight matches.
Turning point: The Red V's Round 17 loss to the Sea Eagles was where their season took a turn for the worse. At that point the Dragons sat at eighth on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder but their 36-6 defeat kick-started a five-game losing run for St George Illawarra. They'd only win another two games for the remainder of the year and were lucky to escape with victory against the Knights in the final round.
Hold your head high: Kurt Mann's first fortnight as a Dragon was horrible from an individual perspective. Drafted in at fullback before being dropped to the Intrust Super Premiership, Mann returned to the top grade later in the year on the wing and finished as the Dragons' leading try-scorer. Aitken, Jack de Belin and Tyson Frizell will dish it out for Player of the Year honours, with the latter making his State of Origin debut for New South Wales this season. Upstart centre Taane Milne's stocks are rising too.
2017 crystal ball: At the moment, the Dragons look like the Knights' only rival for the wooden spoon in 2017. Creagh has retired and Mike Cooper has headed home to Warrington while massive voids in the club's spine have opened up following the departures of Marshall and long-time hooker Mitch Rein.
Conclusion: Issues over player movements and injuries and conjecture of the club's coaching and ownership all worked to derail the Dragons' season, according to coach Paul McGregor.
"I'm going to do a complete review starting but obviously outside pressures had a fair influence on the inside," McGregor said.
"The uncontrollable we certainly let control a few things too many. We have to do that better adversity-wise. Football-wise, the fundamentals we just weren't good enough at."
Plenty of question marks surround the Dragons moving forward into 2017 and much of what next season holds for the club depends on their influence on the open market.
Home Record: 8-4
Away Record: 2-10
Longest Winning Streak: Two (Rounds 3-4; 7-8; 15-16)
Longest Losing Streak: Five (Rounds 17-22)
Players Used: 29
Tries Scored: 58
Tries Conceded: 92