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History shows NRL finalists are now pretty much already set

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Expert
8th May, 2019
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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

Year Team Ladder position
2018 Eels 16/16
2017 Knights 16/16
2016 Knights 15/16
2015 Knights 9/16
2014 Sharks 16/16
2013 Eels 15/16
2012 Eels 16/16
2011 Titans 11/16
2010 Cowboys** 13/15
2009 Roosters 12/16
2008 Bulldogs 12/16
2007 Panthers 15/16
2006 Rabbitohs 15/15
2005 Knights 15/15
2004 Rabbitohs 14/15
2003 Rabbitohs 15/15
2002 Rabbitohs* 11/15
2001 Panthers 14/14
2000 Cowboys 14/14
1999 Wests 14/17
1998 Wests 18/20

*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:

  • ten out of the 21 (47.6 per cent) wooden spooners were already on the bottom of the table after Round 8;
  • only five of the 21 (23.8 per cent) wooden spooners were not already in the bottom four; and
  • conversely, 16 of the eventual wooden spooners (76.8 per cent) were already in the bottom four.
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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.

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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

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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
2011 One Warriors Bulldogs
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
2004 One Knights Cowboys
2003 One Dragons Bulldogs
2002 Three Storm, Wests Tigers and Bulldogs* Sharks, Dragons and Raiders
2001 One Wests Tigers Warriors
2000 Two Wests Tigers and Northern Eagles Storm and Eels
1999 Three Raiders, Panthers and Bears Eels, Dragons and Broncos
1998 One Cowboys Tigers

*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:

  • Wests Tigers: 8
  • Knights: 4
  • Raiders: 4
  • Dragons: 4
  • Panthers: 4

Conversely, there are a few sides that often come home with a wet sail:

  • Eels: 6
  • Sharks: 5
  • Bulldogs: 4
  • Raiders: 4
  • Dragons: 4
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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
2016 One Broncos Raiders
2015 One Dragons Roosters
2014 Three Bulldogs, Wests Tigers (15th) and Titans (9th) Roosters, Panthers and Rabbitohs (7th)
2013 Zero Nil Nil
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
2009 One Broncos Storm (6th)
2008 Two Titans (3rd) and Broncos Sharks and Roosters
2007 Zero Nil Nil
2006 One Cowboys (1st) Bulldogs
2005 Three Cowboys, Sharks and Sea Eagles Eels, Dragons and Wests Tigers (10th)
2004 One Dragons Panthers
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
1999 One Panthers (2nd) Eels
1998 One^ Roosters Eels

*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.

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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

Year Premier Ladder position
2018 Roosters 8/16
2017 Storm 1/16
2016 Sharks 4/16
2015 Cowboys 4/16
2014 Rabbitohs 7/16
2013 Roosters 3/16
2012 Storm 1/16
2011 Sea Eagles 5/16
2010 Dragons 1/16
2009 Storm 6/16
2008 Sea Eagles 4/16
2007 Storm 2/16
2006 Broncos 3/15
2005 Wests Tigers 10/15
2004 Bulldogs 1/15
2003 Panthers 8/15
2002 Roosters 7/15
2001 Knights 2/14
2000 Broncos 1/14
1999 Storm 4/17
1998 Broncos 1/20
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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.