If history is a guide – and it is – this ‘Magic Round’ will need to be really magic if sides outside the current top eight are any chance of September appearances, let alone glory.
A close examination of the history of the NRL after Round 8 shows that, while there is the likelihood of some changes in the ladder, where teams are sitting right now is likely to be where they finish at the end of the home-and-away season, and that the contenders for the wooden spoon and the premiership are getting very clear.
Let’s first look at the cellar dwellers.
NRL Wooden spooners – ladder position after Round 8
*in 2002 the Bulldogs officially finished last, but the Rabbitohs had the fewest wins.
**in 2010 the Storm officially finished last, but the Cowboys had the fewest wins.
As you can see, there are a few clear trends here:
So the chances are very high that the 2019 wooden spooners are already rooted to the bottom of the table. Those figures would not sit well at all with the Warriors, Broncos, Titans, Panthers and especially the Bulldogs, as the side with the worst points differential routinely comes last.
So what chances, then, does a side that is not presently in the top eight have of making it into the finals?
Changes to top eight after Round 8
|Year||Changes||Teams out||Teams in|
|2018||Two||Wests Tigers and Knights||Sharks and Broncos|
|2017||Two||Dragons and Raiders||Eels and Panthers|
|2016||Two||Sea Eagles and Eels||Panthers and Titans|
|2015||Three||Titans, Wests Tigers and Panthers||Roosters, Bulldogs and Sharks|
|2014||Two||Titans and Wests Tigers||Cowboys and Storm|
|2013||Two||Titans and Broncos||Sharks and Bulldogs|
|2012||Two||Dragons and Knights||Raiders and Rabbitohs|
|2010||Two||Rabbitohs and Eels||Warriors and Raiders|
|2009||Two||Rabbitohs and Panthers||Sea Eagles and Eels|
|2008||Three||Knights, Wests Tigers, Titans||Raiders, Dragons and Warriors|
|2007||Two||Wests Tigers and Sharks||Eels and Broncos|
|2006||Three||Dragons, Raiders, Eels||Cowboys, Sharks and Roosters|
|2005||Three||Raiders, Panthers and Warriors||Eels, Dragons and Wests Tigers|
|2002||Three||Storm, Wests Tigers and Bulldogs*||Sharks, Dragons and Raiders|
|2000||Two||Wests Tigers and Northern Eagles||Storm and Eels|
|1999||Three||Raiders, Panthers and Bears||Eels, Dragons and Broncos|
*Bulldogs stripped of all points for salary cap breaches
^1998 had a ten team finals series
All is not totally lost for a side presently outside the eight hoping to rectify that by the end of the home-and-away season. Of the 168 available finals spots over the past 21 seasons, 43 of them (25.6 per cent) have been grabbed by sides that were out of the top eight after Round 8.
These figures show a few sides that frequently get off to good starts and then fall away to miss the finals:
Conversely, there are a few sides that often come home with a wet sail:
However, this then brings us to the next factor: the top four. No side in the NRL era has won the premiership if they have finished the home-and-away season outside the top four.
History shows that after Round 8 that sides do regularly force their way into the top four by season’s end.
Changes to top four after Round 8
|Year||Changes||Teams out||Teams in|
|2018||Three||Dragons, Warriors and Panthers||Roosters (8th), Rabbitohs and Sharks|
|2017||Two||Dragons (9th) and Sharks||Broncos and Eels|
|2014||Three||Bulldogs, Wests Tigers (15th) and Titans (9th)||Roosters, Panthers and Rabbitohs (7th)|
|2012||Three||Sharks, Broncos and Dragons||Bulldogs, Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles|
|2011||Two||Dragons and Cowboys||Sea Eagles (5th) and Wests Tigers|
|2010||One||Sea Eagles||Wests Tigers|
|2008||Two||Titans (3rd) and Broncos||Sharks and Roosters|
|2005||Three||Cowboys, Sharks and Sea Eagles||Eels, Dragons and Wests Tigers (10th)|
|2003||Two||Broncos and Storm||Panthers (8th) and Bulldogs|
|2002||One||Bulldogs (3rd)*||Roosters (7th)|
|2001||Two||Broncos and Roosters||Eels and Bulldogs|
|2000||Two||Sharks and Wests Tigers (4th)||Roosters and Knights|
*Bulldogs stripped of all points for salary cap breaches.
^1998 had a ten team finals series.
In the ‘teams out’ column an italicised team failed to make the finals, with the figure in brackets where they were placed after Round 8.
In the ‘teams in’ column an italicised team won the premiership, with the figure in brackets where they were placed after Round 8.
Of the 84 available top-four spots over the 21 seasons of the NRL, 33 of them (39.3 per cent) have been taken by sides that weren’t in the top four after Round 8. That’s an average of 1.6 changes per season.
Of those 33 sides that have forced their way into the top four at the end of the home-and-away season after a lesser start, only seven of them (21.2 per cent) have won the premiership.
Only one of those victorious sides – the Wests Tigers in 2005 – were outside the top eight after Round 8.
So where were the eventual premiers placed at the conclusion of Round 8 in their respective seasons?
NRL premiers after Round 8
The huge and overwhelming stat here is that two-thirds of the time the eventual premier is already now in the top four. That means things look the best for the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Raiders and Storm.
In almost a third of occasions the eventual premier was sitting on top of the NRL ladder at the end of Round 8.
Again, only once out of 21 seasons – 2005 – was the eventual premier not in the top eight by the end of Round 8.
So for all of those sides from ninth position downwards, they’d better be weaving some pretty special magic indeed this magic round if they are any chance of glory in October.