Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has left the door open on who his star halfback and son Nathan will partner in the halves when he returns from his suspension next week.
Every year when the NRL season kicks off, fans and pundits alike always talk about whether we will see the first back-to-back premiership winners since the Broncos of 1997-98.
This year, we’re talking about the Melbourne Storm, who have consistently for the last decade popped up in the premiership conversation every time the business end of the season comes around.
They may have taken longer to find their rhythm this season after the departure of Cooper Cronk, but now they look to have locked in Jahrome Hughes at halfback and sit atop the competition ladder with five rounds to go. The Storm have certainly hit their straps at the right time and it just seems like the cream is rising to the top as far as finding out who the realistic title contenders are.
So, the question is, can they emulate the feats of Broncos in 1998 and capture consecutive titles? Well, according to these numbers, the teams are actually more similar than we might think and the Storm could be on track to claim the elusive title of back-to-back premiers.
2018 Storm and 1998 Broncos’ number of wins after 20 rounds.
Starting the 2018 season with a record of six wins and five losses, the Storm go into their blockbuster Round 21 clash with the Rabbitohs on 14 wins, and are looking to continue their victorious streak of eight games.
To put this number into perspective, I went on to look at the success of previous premiership winners during their title-defending year. No reigning champions since the Broncos of 1998 have tallied 14 wins after 20 rounds until this year.
30+ and 17
From Round 1 last year until right now, the Storm have scored 30 points or more in 17 regular season games. How does this relate to the Broncos?
As it turns out, the Broncos of 1997-98 also recorded 30 points or more in the exact same number of regular season games from the beginning of ’97 Super League until Round 20 the following year. This Broncos side recorded one more 30-point score by the end of the regular season.
As for the Storm, with games to come against the Eels, Titans and Penrith, they are a real chance of equalling and possibly bettering that number, which could give them all the momentum they need heading into the finals series.
The number of wins by the Broncos at the end of the 1998 home-and-away season.
With five rounds left, the Storm are four wins away from reaching 18 for the season. And based on their current form with three home games in hand, it’s hard to see them giving up any points as they build towards the finals.
3 and 50
The number of times that the Broncos reached 50 points in a game in 1998.
If there is ever a sign of the most dominant team in any given premiership year, it is when they hit the half-century. The fact that the Broncos did that not once but three times in a season only reinforces the quality and attacking prowess of a team capable of winning consecutive titles.
The Knights of 2002 are the only reigning premiers since then to score at least 50 points on three occasions, and only a few have managed more than one. Those are the Penrith Panthers in 2004 and, interestingly, the Melbourne Storm in 2000, 2013 and this year so far.
However, as previously mentioned the Storm have games remaining this season against the Gold Coast Titans and the Parramatta Eels, who are first and fifth in the competition for points conceded respectively. With attacking weapons in all areas of the field, the Storm are in the box seat to get the half century for a third time, and maybe even a fourth.
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So we are now up to the pointy end of the 2018 season. In the most open NRL competition of recent memory, just about any top eight team could win the Provan-Summons trophy on their day.
There’s plenty of arguments as to why all of them can be victorious, but the Storm are better placed than ever to be the last team standing this year as they look to become the first team to claim back-to-back premierships since the Broncos of 1997-98.