Despite his obvious disappointment at a loss to Canberra that ended the season, Wests Tigers Coach Jason Taylor said the club earned a definite pass mark in 2016.
On a day departing fan favourite Robbie Farah was farewelled by fans on his beloved Leichhardt home turf despite not being selected in the team over the closing rounds, the Tigers bowed out meekly under an avalanche of errors against an impressive Raiders outfit.
But as one of three clubs, along with the Gold Coast Titans and Newcastle Knights, that very few expected to be anywhere near the finals reckoning after 26 rounds, it's hard to argue that the Concord club has exceeded on-field expectations in 2016.
Young star Mitch Moses has had a breakout season; skipper Aaron Woods has been enormous every week; fullback James Tedesco excelled both for club and state in a belated Origin debut despite two medium-term injuries hampering his availability; rookie forward Josh Aloiai played every game and is a star of the future; mid-year recruit Elijah Taylor was a revelation; backs Kev Naiqama and David Nofoluma had career years; and unheralded forwards like Sauaso Sue, Ava Seumanufagai and Chris Lawrence have performed their roles with aplomb.
"Absolute pass mark," was Taylor's assessment.
"We had two wins after eight games and to get ourselves in the position that we were [on Sunday] where it was in our hands as to whether we go on and play in the semi-finals I think is great progress.
"We learned a lot about ourselves throughout the season. We slowly but surely started playing a more controlled, more composed brand of footy that's going to get us to the semi-finals down the track that is the sort of footy that wins games in the NRL consistently.
"We've shown that in the back half of the season. As I said to the guys, the biggest thing we've done is make that change and it was that that lost us the game [against Canberra] though. The attitude for that was right but we just weren't able to execute it."
That improvement the Wests Tigers had shown this season made Sunday's error-prone effort more of a shock.
"We beat ourselves, that's the thing. We just made too many errors. You often hear coaches talk about errors but we haven't had a game like that all season, to be honest the last couple of seasons, where it was just on us: unforced error after unforced error," Taylor said.
"We started that way, we kicked the ball dead on the full to start the game, we recovered from that and got an opportunity at their end but we dropped the ball meekly and it didn't change. We talked about it at half-time about changing that but the harder we tried the worse it got."
Taylor played down suggestions the must-win nature of the clash got to his team.
"You could say it was the occasion but we've been playing in those games for the past few weeks. The same pressure was on last week if we didn't win the game last week our season's over and we handled that well," Taylor said. "It's great experience for us to play in a game like that where we had to win the make the semi-finals. It's a semi-final game and it will be a lesson that we'll be able to use for a fair while I'd imagine."
Taylor hoped not having the distraction of speculation about Farah's future would also pay dividends in the future.
"It will be good for us to have that calmed down and settled in that fashion and we can just get on with training and getting ourselves ready for next year after the guys have some time off," he said.
This article first appeared on NRL.com