What your team needs in 2018: Part 2
Missing the top eight is disappointing, even more so when you fall agonisingly short. The following four sides all showed glimpses of finals potential in 2017, and with a few changes could very well challenge for a top-eight berth again in 2018.
Here are the strengths and weaknesses for the best of the bottom eight in 2017 and where they need to improve next year.
2017 rank: 12th
Key 2017 stats: Tackle breaks 4th; run metres 14th; possession percentage 15th; kick defusal percentage 15th
What they've got: A new coach, with Anthony Seibold replacing Michael Maguire in a swift change at the end of the season. They've also got a squad that still bears a striking similarity to the one that won a premiership in 2014, plus some breakout stars in the making in Angus Crichton and Cameron Murray. Unfortunately it's also a squad that has finished 12th in the past two seasons.
What they need: To regain their dominance up front that their last premiership was built on. Despite the presence of three Burgess brothers the Rabbitohs have been outgunned in the forwards in recent years, finishing 14th for run metres this season. There are promising signs in the likes of Crichton and Murray, and the fact their bench was ranked fourth best in the league for metres this year. Getting Greg Inglis back to full fitness would be a massive boost, particularly if he can recapture something like his old form.
What they're getting: The addition of Maroons star Dane Gagai strengthens the team's strike power considerably, even with fellow outside backs Bryson Goodwin and Aaron Gray making way.
2017 rank: 11th
Key 2017 stats: Attack 16th; tries from kicks 16th; tackle efficiency 2nd; line breaks conceded 3rd; tries conceded from kicks 16th
What they've got: A team under pressure, due largely to the worst attacking record in the competition. They scored the fewest tries from kicks in the league – and the fewest points in general – while struggling to defuse kicks themselves. But they also have signs of promise. The Bulldogs' forward pack and defence is quite strong, with the second best tackle efficiency in the league and the third fewest line breaks conceded. In a sense they're not far off where the Cronulla Sharks were the year before they brought in James Maloney and Chad Townsend and won the competition. But they are also now without a coach after Des Hasler's axing this week.
What they need: A new coach and a shake-up in the playmaking roles. It's a telling stat when the team's try assist tally is led by a centre (Brenko Lee, with 12). Josh Reynolds and Michael Lichaa won't be there in 2018 while halfback Moses Mbye managed only four try assists in 23 games this season. They'll also need a new leader with James Graham moving to the Dragons.
What they're getting: Kieran Foran is the key signing, with the club pinning their hopes on the Kiwis playmaker thriving behind a strong pack after his solid but unspectacular campaign at the Warriors. Kangaroos prop Aaron Woods is effectively replacing James Graham up front, while Fa'amanu Brown joins the side from the Sharks and can cover a range of positions in the spine.
2017 rank: 10th
Key 2017 stats: Attack 3rd; tackle breaks 2nd; completions 14th; kick metres 15th; dropouts forced 16th; bench metres 15th
What they've got: A team that failed to live up to expectations this season, due largely to an inability to win enough close games. Their attack was still red hot as it was in 2016, ranked third in the league, while they earned the second-most penalties in the competition. While their outside backs are explosive their halves lack some bite, with the fewest forced dropouts and second-fewest kick metres in the league.
What they need: While they could improve their kicking game and, surprisingly, the impact of their bench forwards (15th in the NRL for metres off the bench) there are no real areas of weakness in the Raiders' top 17, which we described last year as the most balanced squad in the league. If they can tighten up their defence and improve their ball control they have more than enough talent to get back into the eight.
What they're getting: No star signings as yet, with Charlie Gubb following his old teammate Erin Clark to the club next season and young Roosters prop Liam Knight also adding depth up front.
2017 rank: 9th
Key 2017 stats: Run metres 1st; offloads 1st; tackle breaks 1st; tackle efficiency 1st; attack 5th; defence 6th
What they've got: A team that dominated the stats last season and sat at the top of the table after seven rounds before missing the finals in heartbreaking circumstances after a poor second half of the season. Their pack was arguably the strongest in the league this year and their attack improved massively after a poor 2016, with the team becoming the league's most prolific offloaders while their hard-running outside backs racked up more tackle breaks than any other club.
What they need: To find some consistency. In the second half of the season the Dragons lost six matches against teams that went on to miss the finals; had those games gone the other way they would have finished second rather than ninth. The team is also losing experienced campaigners Josh Dugan, Russell Packer and Josh McCrone, among others.
What they're getting: The Dragons have made a couple of recruits and they are big ones – Ben Hunt could form a lethal halves combination with the excellent Gareth Widdop while James Graham improves an already strong forward pack. With Matt Dufty already becoming comfortable in Dugan's old fullback role there are real reasons for optimism for Red V fans.