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Predicting the 2019 NRL premiers before a ball is kicked

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Expert
20th February, 2019
162
3669 Reads

With three weeks until the 2019 NRL season starts, many of us are filled with hope that our team will do really well. Maybe they’ll even challenge for the premiership.

Maybe – just maybe – they’ll even win.

Here’s the cold reality, people: By Round 6, up to four sides will already have bugger-all chance of making the finals, and by Round 10 we’ll be able to narrow the actual premiership contenders down to just six.

And here’s the really hot, steaming pile of reality: those six contenders will most likely be heavily stocked with the usual contenders, and odds are one of those sides will win the premiership.

As an effective tool for ensuring the competition is on a level playing field, the NRL’s salary cap is equivalent to mammary glands on the masculine bovine. Everyone knows it. I strongly suspect NRL HQ knows it too.

Just look at these stats.

Rank Team Premierships Grand final appearances Wooden spoons Finals appearances
1 Storm 5 9 1 17
2 Roosters 3 7 1 15
3 Broncos 3 4 0 19
4 Sea Eagles 2 4 0 11
5 Bulldogs 1 4 2 13
6 Cowboys 1 3 1 10
7 Dragons 1 2 0 12
8 Sharks 1 1 1 12
9 Knights 1 1 4 9
10 Panthers 1 1 2 8
11 Rabbitohs 1 1 3 6
12 Wests Tigers 1 1 0 3
13 Eels 0 2 3 10
14 Warriors 0 2 0 8
15 Raiders 0 0 0 10
16 Titans 0 0 1 3

To extrapolate:
• 13 of the possible 21 NRL premierships (62 per cent) have been won by just four sides.
• 28 of the possible 42 NRL grand final berths (66.66 per cent) have been taken by just five sides (31.25 per cent).
• 16 of the possible 42 NRL grand final berths (38 per cent) have been taken by just two sides.
• Ten of the possible 21 NRL wooden spoons (47.6 per cent) have been taken by just three sides.

The only people who think this state of affairs is just fine and dandy – and who even have the gall to try to justify and defend it – are Storm and Roosters fans, and to a lesser extent Broncos, Sea Eagles and Bulldogs supporters.

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With these facts in mind, let’s turn our minds to which sides are most likely to win the 2019 premiership.

To do that, we need to examine each of the 21 NRL premiers to see how they built up over previous seasons.

Year Premiers Recent premierships Finals appearances in previous five years
2018 Roosters 2013 All except 2016, preliminary finalists in 2017, 2015 and 2014
2017 Storm 2012 All five, runners up 2016, 2015 preliminary final
2016 Sharks Nil 2015, 2013, 2012
2015 Cowboys Nil Previous four seasons
2014 Rabbitohs Pil Preliminary finals 2013 and 2012
2013 Roosters Nil Runners up 2010
2012 Storm 2009, 2007 All five seasons except 2010. 2011 preliminary final
2011 Sea Eagles 2008 All seasons back to 2005. Runners up 2007
2010 Dragons Nil 2009, 2008, preliminary finals 2006 and 2005
2009 Storm 2007 Runners up 2008 and 2006. Semi-finals 2005, 2004, 2003
2008 Sea Eagles Nil 2007 runners up, 2006, 2005
2007 Storm Nil 2006 runners up. Semi-finals 2005, 2004, 2003
2006 Broncos 2000 Preliminary finals 2001 and 2002. 2003, 2004, 2005
2005 Wests Tigers Nil Nil
2004 Bulldogs Nil 2003 preliminary final, 2001, 1999
2003 Panthers Nil 2000
2002 Roosters Nil 2000 Runners up. 2001, 1999, 1998 preliminary final
2001 Knights 1997* Preliminary finals 2000 and 1998. 1999
2000 Broncos 1998, 1997* 1999, 1996, 1995
1999 Storm Nil 1998
1998 Broncos 1997*, 1993, 1992 1996, 1995, 1994

*Split competition

To extrapolate from these figures:
• Seven of the 21 premiers were runners up within the previous five seasons (33.3 per cent)
• Nine of the 21 premiers were preliminary finalists within the previous five seasons (42.85 per cent)
• 11 of the 21 premiers had won a premiership within the previous five seasons (52.4 per cent)
• 18 of the 21 premiers played in the finals the previous season (85.7 per cent)

We can almost certainly rule out all of the sides that missed the 2018 finals, so things look grim for the Sea Eagles, Titans, Knights and Wests Tigers. Let’s draw a line through them.

The Cowboys, Eels, Bulldogs and Raiders might still be a chance because they’ve each either played in a grand final at least a preliminary final within the past five seasons. However, in reality, only North Queensland are really a good chance as they’ve been in a couple of grand finals in that time.

While they were finalists in 2018, neither the Warriors nor Dragons have played in so much as a preliminary final in the last five seasons, so we’ll cut them.

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The Panthers haven’t played in a preliminary final since 2014 so we will draw a line through them too.

That leaves us with these six sides:
• Sharks
• Broncos
• Cowboys
• Rabbitohs
• Storm
• Roosters

So what are their actual chances?

Sharks
Turmoil. It seems Cronulla are always in turmoil. Shane Flanagan is gone, replaced by John Morris, and they’ve lost some good players in Jesse Ramien (Knights), Ricky Leutele (Toronto Wolfpack) and Luke Lewis (retirement). However, the loss of Valentine Holmes is what really hurts, although the pick-up of Shaun Johnson may be equally good.

However, if the rumours are true that there are serious cap issues and they have to shed players, then it is highly doubtful that they’ll be serious contenders in 2019.

Cowboys
The $10 million question is how will they go without Johnathan Thurston? They’ve picked up some handy players in Nene Macdonald (Dragons), Tom Opacic (Broncos) and Kurt Baptiste (Roosters), and they’ve drafted in Jordan Kahu to fill the hole left by Ben Barba.

Michael Morgan and Jason Taumololo are superstars – however, they’ll need to be. Thurston was a pretty good player and leaves a huge hole. I’m not sure North Queensland can challenge this season.

Jason Taumalolo North Queensland Cowboys NRL Rugby League Grand Final 2017

Jason Taumalolo (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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Storm
The only finals the Storm have missed since 2003 was in 2010, when they were excluded for massive systematic salary cap cheating. They have not only taken part in 14 of the past 15 series, they’ve also been in eight of the last 15 grand finals, including the last three straight.

But they’ve lost Tim Glasby (Knights), Billy Slater (retirement), Ryan Hoffman (retirement) and Ryley Jacks (Titans). I’m calling it early but the dynasty may finally be over. I don’t reckon they’ll make this year’s grand final.

Rabbitohs
The Cardinal and Myrtle have a good looking list and a new coach. Angus Crichton is a big loss but it’s not the end of the world, especially if the Burgii repeat last year’s efforts.

Adam Reynolds is a gun half and Greg Inglis is in rare form. It is not beyond them by any means but I’m not convinced.

Broncos
They’ve been pretty quiet since losing the 2015 decider in extra time, however Brisbane are a good chance this season.

I’ve got no great explanation for that. Just a vibe. They’ve neither lost that much nor picked up anything wonderful in player terms, but it’s the Broncos. If they click they’ll go a long way. Maybe Anthony Seibold can make that happen?

Roosters
The 2018 premiers have managed their cap brilliantly again. Their only significant loss was Blake Ferguson – and Dylan Napa, I guess, but his defence is suspect – while they picked up some A-grade cattle in Angus Crichton (Rabbitohs), Ryan Hall (Leeds), Brett Morris (Bulldogs) and Brock Lamb (Knights).

Their pack and backs are really strong. The only negative I can see is that there hasn’t been a genuine back-to-back premier since the Broncos in 1993. Trent Robinson’s men may well be the ones to break that streak.

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Barring serious misfortune I’m picking the Roosters to be the 2019 champions.