Middle men gave their all, but it wasn’t enough

It was a case of 'close but no cigar' for those teams that made the playoffs in positions five through to eight, with none of them able to make it to the prelim finals.

As part of our end-of-season NRL review, APN's rugby league expert Wayne Heming ran the rule over the quartet to see what went right, what went wrong, and what their fans can look forward to next season.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 12: Curtis Rona of the Bulldogs makes a break during the NRL Elimination Final match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the St George Illawarra Dragons at ANZ Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Renee McKay/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 12: Curtis Rona of the Bulldogs makes a break during the NRL Elimination Final match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the St George Illawarra Dragons at ANZ Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Renee McKay/Getty Images) Renee McKay

BULLDOGS (14-10 5th):

The Dogs lost some of their bite in the last few rounds, but their size, power and aggression always caused major defensive headaches for their rivals. They scored more than 100 tries for the season, with winger Curtis Rona claiming almost 25% of them after transferring from the Cowboys. A late-season injury to halfback Trent Hodkinson made life tough for coach Des Hasler. The pending departures of big, skilful Frankie Pritchard, along with Hodkinson's decision to move to Newcastle are big blows ahead of 2016. Hasler though does have a kid named Moses Mbye who could prove his saviour.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 29: Jack Bird of the Sharks in action during the round 25 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Cronulla Sharks at Pirtek Stadium on August 29, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 29: Jack Bird of the Sharks in action during the round 25 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Cronulla Sharks at Pirtek Stadium on August 29, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images) Mark Nolan

SHARKS (14-10 6th):

Cronulla experienced a watershed season in 2015 after coming out the other end of their drug and sponsorship dramas. Nothing much appeared to have changed when the 2014 wooden spooners lost their opening four games, but once they found their defensive mojo they were the big improvers of the year. Coach Shane Flanagan has kept his squad together, and added classy five-eighth James Maloney and the underrated Chad Townsend. With future stars like Dally M Rookie of the Year Jack Bird and the electrifying Valentine Holmes learning from the likes of Paul Gallen and Michael Ennis, the Sharks look finals material in 2016.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 13: Greg Inglis of the Rabbitohs looks dejected after defeat in the NRL Elimination Final match between the Cronulla Sharks and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 13: Greg Inglis of the Rabbitohs looks dejected after defeat in the NRL Elimination Final match between the Cronulla Sharks and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images) Mark Metcalfe

SOUTH SYDNEY (13-11 7TH):

This was hard to watch, even for non-Rabbitohs fans. After their 2014 drought-breaking premiership win, Souths stormed into 2015 like world beaters beating Brisbane by 30 in round one, but the loss of a few key players, especially Sam Burgess, was going to tell at some stage. Injuries to Adam Reynolds, Glenn Stewart and John Sutton didn't help and Greg Inglis was surprisingly quiet. The loss of Stewart and hooker Issac Luke will cause coach Michael Maguire some issues, but if the rumour mill is right about Burgess returning, and disgruntled Tiger Robbie Farah linking with the club, things may not be so bad in 2016.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 08: Trent Merrin of the Dragons makes a break during the round 22 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Westpac Stadium on August 8, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 08: Trent Merrin of the Dragons makes a break during the round 22 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Westpac Stadium on August 8, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images) Hagen Hopkins

DRAGONS (12-12 8th):

The Dragons breathed some fire early and after 12 rounds were on top of the NRL ladder. But their inability to score points eventually put too much pressure on their defence and they fell in a hole mid-season. Coach Paul McGregor won't find the job any easier in 2016, losing gun forward Trent Merrin to Penrith. Former Storm centre Kurt Mann will give the Dragons some extra firepower in attack, while former Rooster Mose Masoe will help cover the loss of Dan Hunt. Hard to see them improving too much in 2016 though.


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