Come finals time, I wheel out my favourite statistic and tell certain teams that, even though they made the top eight, they can forget about winning the NRL premiership.
I was first alerted to this particular numerical pattern in 2017 when Fox Sports pointed out that no team in the history of rugby league in Australia has won a first-grade grand final after conceding 50 points in a match during the season.
Yes, there have been differences in the way the game is officiated and how many points were awarded for certain means of scoring. But it’s been consistent as gravity for 111 years – ship 50 or more points during the season and you won’t hoist the trophy.
So who can we rule out?
The Eels made a statement and a half for their first-ever game at Bankwest Stadium, giving the Tigers a 51-6 touch-up in Round 6.
In Round 20 the Roosters ran in ten tries over the Gold Coast in a 58-6 shellacking.
And last week Newcastle ended their disastrous season with their worst loss of the year, going down 54-10 to the Panthers.
So the Tigers, Titans and Knights weren’t going to trouble the engravers at NRL HQ. I know, what a total shocker.
However, one side that is still alive this season also conceded 50-plus in a match, effectively making them walking dead.
In Round 9 Parramatta travelled to Brisbane for Magic Round, where a rampant Storm ran up the biggest win of the year, smashing the Eels 64-10.
What’s more, the blue-and-gold troops who had 11 tries scored on them line up pretty similarly to the team that will take the field against the Broncos today.
|Round 9||No.||Elimination final|
|Clint Gutherson (c)||1||Clint Gutherson (c)|
|Maika Sivo||2||Maika Sivo|
|Michael Jennings||3||Michael Jennings|
|Brad Takairangi||4||Waqa Blake|
|Blake Ferguson||5||Blake Ferguson|
|Jaeman Salmon||6||Dylan Brown|
|Mitch Moses||7||Mitch Moses|
|Daniel Alvaro||8||Kane Evans|
|Peni Terepo||9||Reed Mahoney|
|Junior Paulo||10||Junior Paulo|
|Shaun Lane||11||Shaun Lane|
|Marata Niukore||12||Manu Ma’u|
|Tepai Moeroa||13||Nathan Brown|
|Reed Mahoney||14||Brad Takairangi|
|Tim Mannah||15||Daniel Alvaro|
|Oregon Kaufusi||16||Ray Stone|
|Manu Ma’u||17||Marata Niukore|
Parra deserve huge credit for their 2019.
They were abysmal last year, an embarrassment to their supporters, which was made all the worse by the fact they finished in the top four – and gave the eventual premiers Melbourne an almighty scare in the finals – in 2017.
As for what’s gone right in 2019, while it wasn’t a splashy recruitment drive, new faces Junior Paulo, Shaun Lane and Blake Ferguson have proven outstanding investments.
And of course there has been Maika Sivo, who in his first season of top-flight footy was the comp’s leading try-scorer and, according to Ferguson, “is the best winger in the competition”.
But perhaps more important than the added troops was the soul-searching and honesty sessions held over the off-season. The result has been a side that looks much more unified than in 2018 and one with a far steelier resolve.
However, said steel was not on display on that night in early May.
In fact, while their defence has improved by almost 100 points on last year, it’s still the second-worst of the teams playing finals.
The only side that’s been worse? That’d be this afternoon’s opponents, the Broncos.
So I’m not going to write the Eels off today. They’re a fair chance of making another week. But they ain’t winning the 2019 grand final.
Because defence wins titles and teams that give up 50 points – at any point in a season – don’t have the defensive resolve to become premiers. As much has been proven for more than a century.
That said, I do look forward to people in the comments saying, “Yeah, but if…” because when I’ve pulled this stat out in previous columns, there are always those who love to rip out the hypotheticals.
Because if the Warriors, Dragons or Panthers had managed to win the comp last year…
Y’know what, it’s just not worth going in to. This stat is a truism. Doesn’t matter what might have happened, because it didn’t happen.
Get 50 put on you, you won’t win the comp.
So Parra have had an almighty season and their fans should be justifiably proud. I reckon they’ll even get past the Broncs.
But if Clint Gutherson is holding up the Provan-Summons Trophy on the first Sunday in October, I’ll do the Great North Walk in a pair of blue-and-gold dick stickers.