Dragons players during a 2018 match.

Sorry Dragons fans, you knew what this one was going to be.

The Red V started the 2018 Telstra Premiership like a runaway freight train, winning their first six games on the bounce and seven of their first nine to sit pretty in top or equal spot every round from one until round 17.

But Paul McGregor's men won just three of their last nine to slip to seventh and despite a commanding win in week one of the finals they had left themselves too big a task and were eliminated the next weekend.

It's a familiar story for the Dragons faithful, one that has not only been a hallmark of McGregor's tenure but pre-dates it, with the club finishing every season since their 2010 premiership anywhere from slightly to dramatically lower on the ladder than their mid-season peak.

So what actually went wrong for the Dragons? Blaming State of Origin would be an easy excuse, particular with high work-rate forwards like Jack De Belin and Tyson Frizell getting heavily sapped over that period.

But the club had non-Origin players whose form also dropped off. Whether that is a flow-on effect from reduced go-forward from the rep players is up for debate. What do the stats say?

Virtually all the relevant statistical categories dropped away in rounds 17-25 compared to 1-16. Obviously, points scored and conceded is the end result but it looks like it all came from the back of one fundamental – failure to control possession.

For 16 rounds the Dragons commanded an imposing 53.7% of possession on average according to NRL.com Stats; some weeks it was up close to 60%. They just weren't giving opponents a chance to get into the game.

In that period they ran 1600m per week and made just 300 tackles.

Over the final nine games that completely flipped on its head. In that period they held just 46.4% of the ball – almost a direct reversal. Suddenly, what they were doing to other teams was being done to them.

Their yardage dropped to 1484m per week and tackles made skyrocketed to over 370, with missed tackles accordingly jumping from 25 to 29.

Their penalties conceded actually dropped (although there were a couple of costly sin-bins) but penalties received plunged from 9.5 to 5.7.

That, combined with ball control and repeat sets earned or conceded (often through point-scoring) all added up to far less ball for the Red V over the final nine rounds in a self-perpetuating loop they couldn't escape from.