The Dragons surprised most outsiders by leading the Telstra Premiership for the opening 11 rounds and remaining in the top two until round 20. In total, St George Illawarra only spent three weeks outside the top four but unfortunately they were at the back end of the season when injuries to key players took their toll.
The Paul McGregor-coached team limped into seventh place but re-grouped in the finals to stun Brisbane 48-18 before being eliminated after an epic 11-10 loss to South Sydney, in which Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds kicked three field goals to snatch victory against the injury hit Dragons.
The season was St George Illawarra's most successful since the club's 2010 premiership triumph and forwards Jack de Belin, Tyson Frizell, Paul Vaughan and Tariq Sims were rewarded with NSW selection, while star halfback Ben Hunt represented Queensland.
The departure of Nene Macdonald to North Queensland and Jason Nightingale's retirement leave the Dragons in search of wingers but those losses are offset by the emergence of Zac Lomax and Jordan Pereira late in the 2018 season.
St George Illawarra Dragons: 2018 by the numbers
Home and away record
9-3 at home, 6-6 away
An 18-12 loss to the Warriors in round 21 ruined what would have been a perfect record for the Dragons at WIN Stadium, while their first defeat at Jubilee Oval was just three weeks earlier. St George Illawarra also enjoyed success in designated home games at Mudgee against Canberra in round 11 and Allianz Stadium, where they beat the Roosters in the annual Anzac Day clash. The Dragons achieved their 9-3 home record on the back of an attack which yielded 23.6 points per match, while they conceded an average of 16.5 points. In contrast, Paul McGregor's men averaged 19.7 points per match away from home and conceded 22.8 points.
Leading try scorers
Fullback Matt Dufty scored the most tries for the Dragons in 2018 with 13, including 12 during the regular season. While each of the other seven teams who finished in the top eight had a player who scored more tries, St George Illawarra shared the scoring around. Centre Euan Aitken and left winger Nene Macdonald finished with 10 tries apiece, while second-rower Tariq Sims scored seven tries and halfback Ben Hunt crossed for six. In total, 18 Dragons players scored, including the 17 who regularly played before injuries set in late in the season. Rookie winger Jordan Pereira scored three tries in nine NRL matches.
The Dragons (505) ranked fifth for post-contact metres per game behind the Roosters (530), Bulldogs (527), Warriors (508) and Sea Eagles (506) but it was another area where no single player dominated the NRL's statistics. Winger Nene Macdonald averaged 50.9 post contact metres, ahead of prop Paul Vaughan (50.7post contact metres), whose 249 runs with the ball for St George Illawarra yielded 3.9 post contact metres per carry. Interchange forward Leeson Ah Mau averaged 3.86 post contact metres per carry.
Try scoring – attacking channels
With two leading playmakers in Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop playing either side of the ruck, St George Illawarra's attack was equally as potent on both edges. Of the Dragons 82 tries, 21 were scored on the left and right edges, with 18 in the centre channel, from which 23% of the team's try scoring movements originated. Hooker Cameron McInnes was No.1 in the NRL for runs from dummy half after a quick play-the-ball, while Dufty was always sniffing around in support. Most of the 33 tries in the left and centre left channel were scored by Macdonald (10), second-rower Tariq Sims (7) and centre Tim Lafai (6). Aitken (10), Hunt (6) and second-rower Tyson Frizell (5) were responsible for 21 of the 31 tries scored on the right or centre right edge.
Tries conceded – defending channels
The Dragons right side defence was responsible for conceding the most tries, with opposition teams scoring 42 tries in the centre right and right channels. Of those, 25 were conceded on the right defensive channel – more than than the combined total for the left (13) and centre left (10) channels. Conceding penalties led to 20 of the 80 tries scored against the Dragons, while kick returns (17) were the next biggest source of possession for opposition teams before a try, ahead of scrums (15). Dufty was respsonsible for 21 try causes, while Aitken was second with 19.
Tries conceded from penalties
St George Illawarra and Melbourne were the two best teams for defending their line after penalties, with 21 of the 80 tries conceded by the Dragons coming from a penalty. The Storm also conceded 21 tries in the set of tackles after a penalty, followed by the Roosters with 23. What makes this statistic more impressive for Paul McGregor's men was that they conceded 472 points during the regular season, compared to 361 points by the Roosters and 363 points by the Storm. McInness was the worst offender for giving away penalties, with 28. Sims (16) conceded the second most penalties at the club.
Metres gained from offloads
The Dragons ranked sixth for metres from the ball carry after an offload (1675.4m), but were 12th for the amount of ground they made from each offload (8m). Macdonald and lock Jack de Belin led the way for offloads, with 34 each, while halfback Ben Hunt was the most effective, with 33 of his offloads finding a teammate. Support players made 229.8m from Hunt's offloads, while Macdonald averaged 14.3m per run after receiving the ball from an off-load. Dufty was the player most likely to be in support and made 314.6m from offloads, averaging 10.5m, ahead of five-eighth Gareth Widdop (176.2m).
Widdop kicked 58 of his 74 attempted conversions and 29 of 31 penalty goal attempts – a success rate of 83%. With four tries to his name, the Dragons captain scored 191 points in 21 games for the Dragons during the 2018 season at an average of 9.1 points per match. Only Brisbane winger Jamayne Isaako (233) and Sydney Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell (228) scored more points. Mitchell averaged 10.4 points per match, while Isaako averaged 9.7 points per match. All but two of Widdop's missed attempts at goal were from the left (65%) or right channel (44%). In Widdop's absence, centre Tim Lafai managed four goals from five attempts during regular season matches.
Metres gained over the advantage line
Dufty's impact on St George Illawarra's attack in his first full season of NRL was demonstrated by the rookie fullback's ranking as the No.1 player for metres gained over the advantage line. Each of Dufty's 54 runs over the advantage line yielded 11.76 metres. He scored 12 tries and had eight try assists, while also being second only behind Warriors fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (1231) for kick return metres (1206). McInnes was seventh overall for metres gained over the advantage line, with an average of 10.89 metres from his 121 runs. The statistic does not include support runs, zero tackle re-starts or kick returns
Fewest missed tackles per game
The Dragons had one of the most effective defences in the NRL last season and missed the fewest tackles per match (26.6) of any team. The halves pairing of Hunt (4.7 per match) and Widdop (3.3) were responsible for the most missed tackles per match as opposition forwards targeted them in defence. Sims was the best one-on-one tackler in the NRL, with 44 individual tackles on opposition ball carries. The NSW Origin forward was effective with 88% of his attempted one-on-one tackles.