It was a season that promised so much, Charles Dickens would've been licking his lips.
But in the end it only delivered disappointment and controversy for the Canberra Raiders - although there were a few lime green shoots to provide some hope for the future.
Those expectations suffered a near-fatal blow with a mid-season slump that saw the Green Machine win just two of 11 games to leave them 13th on the NRL ladder and longshots to make the eight.
That was largely due to a series of second-half fadeouts, with the Raiders generally looking good after 20 minutes before struggling for the remaining 60.
They led at half-time in six of their 14 losses - four of those they led by 12 points or more.
While they managed to rally late in the campaign - after they moved to the Gold Coast as part of the NRL's Queensland bubble - the damage had been done and they missed out on the finals on points differential alone, having the same number of wins (10) as the eighth-placed Gold Coast Titans.
PAIN IN THE NECK
It's no coincidence the Raiders' slide began with the loss to Penrith - when fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad suffered the neck injury that sidelined him for more than four months.
Caleb Aekins, Bailey Simonsson, Xavier Savage and Jordan Rapana all wore the No.1 jersey in his absence to varying degrees of success, with the defence noticeably more leaky in Nicoll-Klokstad's absence.
His return before the end of the season will be a massive boost for the Green Machine's chances in 2022.
It also doesn't help when your halfback gets homesick and ends up going back to England halfway through the season.
His messy exit means Raiders coach Ricky Stuart's ability to find a replacement for next year will be crucial in the Green Machine returning to the finals.
Their attack struggled in Williams' absence, especially with five-eighth Jack Wighton unable to recapture his Dally M Medal-winning form.
Williams' departure, the sacking of Curtis Scott due to assault charges and Joe Tapine's wife bagging Stuart on social media all helped destabilise the club's tilt at the premiership.
LIME GREEN SHOOTS
There were some reasons to be optimistic, especially with some young players taking noticeable steps forward.
Tom Starling emerged as the Raiders' long-term hooker before his season was ended by a broken jaw.
Xavier Savage was excellent in his two (official) NRL games - after accidentally being used as an illegal substitute in another - before a shoulder injury ended his campaign as well.
Plus Sebastian Kris, Matt Timoko, Semi Valemei - apart from a tough outing in the final game of the season - and Harley Smith-Shields all showed promise.
The everlimegreen Rapana was also excellent on his way to winning the Mal Meninga Medal, both as a leading try scoring winger and filling in brilliantly at fullback.
The future's up in the air for two Raiders who bleed lime green.
Canberra co-captain Jarrod Croker will see a surgeon in the coming weeks in a bid to solve his chronic knee injury, while Sia Soliola may have played his last game for the Green Machine.
He's yet to announce whether he'll play on in 2022.