Dragon’s fans, I fully admit to having written your side off before round one. Two and a half rounds in, I think the large majority of NRL fans were with me.
The Dragons recruitment was heavily criticised, with good reason, and it was hard to see the squad having enough firepower, or defensive muscle, to worry any of the top sides.
I genuinely believe Paul McGregor used the perception that his side were seen as more likely to finish in the bottom four than the top eight, to fire his side to a brilliant season.
Although they exited the competition in the first week of the finals, the Dragons can be very happy with their efforts, having proven many, myself included, wrong.
Season Highlight: 42-6 win over the Sharks (Round 12)
A win over local rivals the Sharks in any circumstance is brilliant, but the way they put their travelling neighbours to the sword in round 12
On the day the Dragons dominated every stat of importance, running in six tries to one. As a quick aside, the one try they did concede should not have been awarded.
Josh Dugan had a field day from the back, running for well over 200 metres, while the halves pairing of Marshall and Widdop dominated their Shark counterparts.
The biggest surprise on the day was the way in which the Dragons forwards outplayed a Sharks heavily fancied pack.
Season Lowlight: 22-4 loss to the Tigers (Round 2)
Although we now know what would follow, at this time, this was the game that had Dragons fans wondering if perhaps everyone was right about their side.
Coming off a tight loss to the Storm, the Dragons were taken apart by a Tigers side expected to struggle in 2015.
I wish I had taken the names down, but some on social media were threatening to tear up season memberships after the round two performance.
66% completion rate. 18 errors. Almost 200 metres less than their opponents gained despite Trent Merrin almost racking up 200 on his own. The stats were not good. Luckily this did not become a pattern.
Star Player: Josh Dugan
It’s a shame all the time regarding Dugan is about his wanting to play in the NFL rather than his brilliant 2015.
His efforts were such that he earned a return to the Origin set up, in his favoured fullback role.
Unfortunately Dugan’s history with injuries is well documented, however that seems to finally be in the past, allowing him his best year to date.
12 line breaks and seven tries illustrates the danger he presents in attack, while he defensive work and positioning was top notch.
Most Disappointing Player: George Rose
Big George Rose was picked up by the Red V in hope that he would add size and aggression to their front row.
The reality was that Rose bounced between NSW Cup and the odd bench appearance at NRL level.
With his short stints and the reduction in interchanges next season, I’m not sure how many NRL games he plays next year.
He played a bit part role, however never lived up to the impact he produced during his time at Manly.
Future Star: Euan Aitken
The departure of Dane Nielson, and the lack of form out the Dragons other outside backs meant 20 year-old Euan Aitken made his debut sooner than expected.
His 23 games yielded great results for the Dragons, going well beyond his six tries.
Truth be told, the Dragons outside backs lacked flair early on, but Aitken provided just that, as well as a big body in defence.
His efforts were rewarded with an extended contract and the chance to represent the PMXI against the Kumuls.
Best Signing For 2016: Sebastine Ikahihifo
Ikahihifo is not the biggest name to move clubs for next season, but his 95 kilogram presence in the second row, will go a long way to replacing Trent Merrin.
Tyson Frizzel and Joel Thompson both had career best years, and the addition of the 24 year-old former Warrior rounds out a youthful yet destructive back row.
He’ll likely play from the bench, at least in the early rounds, which will provide much needed spark, something the Dragons had to move their main man Merrin to the pine to achieve.
I certainly don’t expect Ikahihifo to provide the influence of the likes of RTS and Maloney next season, but his signing is a good one.
For the second year in a row, the Dragons recruitment drive has been underwhelming, and will rely on players playing above themselves.
That being said, the likes of Dugan, Aitken, Widdop and Marshall can provide plenty in attack, while Mike Cooper, Jack de Belin and Mitch Reign are better entering 2015 than they were at this time 12 months ago.
It’d be hard to point the Dragons amongst the list of next season’s favourites, however I would expect them to be right in the reckoning come finals time.
Season Grading: B+
It’s fair to say that the Red V proved the large majority of critics wrong by playing finals footy in 2015.
Their star players stood up and were counted, their solid players played above themselves, and they unearthed a brilliant young centre.
At times the Dragons were the form team of the competition, and their win over the Roosters on Anzac day was arguably the most memorable game of the season.
Prior to the final half an hour of round three, things looked pretty grim for the club, however after a successful season and a decent, if unspectacular recruitment drive, things aren’t so dark any more.