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A brief history of NRL premiership defence

Greg Inglis in the last NRL all-Sydney grand final. (AAP Image)
Roar Guru
4th March, 2015
10

Following on from my article yesterday about the Rabbitohs’ chances of going back to back this year, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at how recent grand final winners have fared in their attempts at consecutive premierships.

2007 Premiers – Melbourne Storm
While this premiership was later stripped from the record due to salary cap breaches, the Storm were still the side to beat in 2008. They amazingly won twenty-one of twenty-four games to claim the minor premiership.

They lost to the Warriors in the qualifying final, but recovered to beat Brisbane 16-14 in the semi-final and Cronulla 28-0 in the preliminary final, taking them to the grand final where they were up against Manly. The Sea Eagles were looking to avenge the 34-8 grand final loss to the Storm the year before and send Steve Menzies out on top. With Cameron Smith out through suspension the Storm were dominated, losing 40-0.

2008 Premiers – Manly Sea Eagles
With Steve Menzies retiring after the 2008 grand final, Manly’s title defence got off to a horrific start at their season launch when Anthony Watmough was involved in an altercation with a sponsor and Brett Stewart was charged with sexual assault.

In the ensuing controversy and without the suspended Stewart, arguably their best player, Manly lost their first four games of the season. Stewart returned but soon after suffered a knee injury, and didn’t return until Round 25.

As a result Manly finished the regular season in fifth position with the un-enviable task of taking on their now arch-rivals the Storm in the first round of the finals, who they had belted in the previous year to set the record for the biggest ever grand final winning margin.

They lost 40-12 and as the Broncos and Eels – sixth and eighth on the ladder respectively after the regular season – both won, Manly were one of the two lowest-ranked losers and were bundled out the finals after one game.

2009 Premiers – Melbourne Storm
In April 2010 the NRL announced the Melbourne Storm had been systematically rorting the salary cap by keeping two sets of books. As punishment, the Storm were stripped of their 2007 and 2009 premierships and all points for the 2010 season, consigning them to the wooden spoon and denying them the opportunity for consecutive premierships.

2010 Premiers – St George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons broke the drought in 2010 to win their first premiership since 1979. Their defence got off to a tremendous start, only losing one of their first twelve games and sitting on the top of the ladder at the half-way point of the season.

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With the job already done the year before and his side cruising, Wayne Bennett began to pack his bags and make arrangements for the Knights, where he had already signed to coach the following year.

Meanwhile, the form of several Dragons players slumped and they only won four of their remaining twelve games to limp into the finals in fifth place. They were bundled out in straight sets, losing to the Tigers 21-12 in the qualifying final then narrowly to the Broncos 13-12 in the semi-final, courtesy of a Darren Lockyer field goal.

2011 Premiers – Manly Sea Eagles
Before the hang-overs of the 2011 premiership party had even subsided, Des Hasler announced he was bailing from Manly to coach the Bulldogs in 2012.

Geoff Toovey took the reins and the Sea Eagles got off to a good start, winning their first two games, before losing four of the next five. They recovered well to finish the regular season in fourth position.

After the NRL dumped the McIntyre system in favour of the system previously used in the 90s by the ARL where the top four get a second chance, the Eagles faced the minor premiers in the qualifying final, the Bulldogs.

They lost 16-10, controversially defeated the Cowboys 22-12 in the semi-final with a couple of dubious tries, and then got thumped 40-12 in Melbourne by a Storm side hell bent on making up for their shock exit against the Warriors in the preliminary final at home the year before.

2012 Premiers – Melbourne Storm
After securing what was now the first official premiership for this group of Storm players, they looked unstoppable in early 2013, winning their first seven games. They were brought back down to earth with surprise losses to the Raiders and Panthers, plus the usual struggle around the Origin period, to finish the regular season in third position.

They faced the Rabbitohs in the qualifying finals, and lost 20-10, before the Knights then caused a massive upset, beating the Storm 18-16 in front of a stunned crowd at AAMI park.

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2013 Premiers – Sydney Roosters
The Roosters had a sluggish start to the 2014 season, winning just two of their first six games. At the halfway point they were sitting in fourth position, then won their final six games of the regular season – including a Round 26 victory over the Rabbitohs – to claim the minor premiership for the second year running. They stormed into the finals series with many believing they would go back to back.

With effectively the same side that took them to premiership glory, the Roosters never dominated in the finals and stumbled in their quest. They first lost 19-18 to a plucky Panthers side in the qualifying final courtesy of Jamie Soward’s boot. Then, with a field goal they narrowly beat the Cowboys 31-30 in the semi-final.

On the preliminary final the Rabbitohs extracted revenge for stealing the minor premiership in Round 26, knocking them out of the race with a 32-22 victory.

I expect the Rabbitohs to get their season off to a good start with a convincing win over the Broncos tonight. But by the end of the season, I think the Rabbitohs will have another tale to add to the list above of failed title defences.

What conclusions can we draw from these past efforts Roarers? Well, the main one is that it is extremely hard to win the NRL competition two years in a row!