While it was clouded in controversy, there is no question that the 2019 grand final was a cracker, played between two excellent sides.
The Roosters are now focused on trying to back up and be the first side since Parramatta in 1983 to pull off a three-peat. The Raiders are focused on regrouping and going one better in 2020 to lift the trophy.
The harsh reality is that when you examine the last four decades of the game, both scenarios are very unlikely.
Firstly, both sides are likely to experience some crucial roster changes. Already Cooper Cronk has retired from the Roosters and it is unclear just who will attempt to fill his very large boots. As the Roosters triumphed by just six points, his absence from the side may cause quite a marked drop in results. Siosiua Taukeiaho and Latrell Mitchell are also rumoured to be on the way out.
The Raiders are facing some distinct roster changes, too. Jordan Rapana is off to Japanese rugby, and the futures of Joseph Leilua and Aidan Sezer at the club are also in question.
So both sides will lose established players and their ability to adapt to the changes is unknown.
The second factor is that it’s hard for any grand finalist to get back into the decider the following season. This is highlighted by the fact that since 1980 (not including 1997, when the competition was split), only 24 of the 76 grand final spots (31.6 per cent) were taken by sides who had played in the previous season’s decider.
Only nine of those have occurred since the NRL era began in 1998, 22 seasons ago. That’s just nine out of 40 spots (22.5 per cent). The feat has become distinctly harder to achieve. It won’t surprise you to know that eight of those nine repeat efforts have been done by the Storm (five) and the Roosters (three).
The repeat offenders since 1980 also include the Bulldogs (four times), the Sea Eagles and Eels (three times), the Raiders (twice) and the Panthers, Broncos, Dragons and Tigers (once apiece).
And if making the grand final again the following year is unlikely, then the same two sides facing off again is less likely still. Only four times (10.5 per cent) since 1980 have the same two sides played in the decider the following year: Parra and Manly in 1983, Canberra and Penrith in 1991, Brisbane and St George in 1993, and Melbourne and Manly in 2008.
Notably, the result in the rematch has changed 50 per cent of the time.
A replay the following year has only occurred once in the last 25 seasons (four per cent). So I’m advising you heavily against putting any money on a Roosters-Raiders decider in 2020.
Since 1980, 12 premiers have played in the following year’s grand final. However, only five times have they been victorious: the Eels in 1982 and ’83, the Raiders in 1990, the Broncos in 1993 and the Roosters in 2019.
While the Roosters broke a 26-year hoodoo by being the first side to go back to back since the Broncos in 1993, the last side to win three in a row was the Eels in 1983. Before that it was the Dragons’ legendary run of 11 titles that ended in 1966.
In regards to the runners up, the odds are slightly better for success when backing up for the following year’s decider. Of the 11 times that it has been achieved since 1980, seven times they have triumphed on the second attempt: Penrith in 1991, Canterbury in 1995, Manly in 1996, Melbourne in 2007, Manly in 2008, then Melbourne again in 2009 and 2017.
The ugly reality for both the Roosters and Raiders alike is that the odds are almost 50/50 that neither side will feature in the 2020 grand final.
Since 1980, neither side has backed up to play in the decider 18 times. Thirteen of those instances have occurred during the 21 seasons of the NRL. That’s almost two thirds of the time in recent history.
Then there is an even worse scenario. Seven times the defending premier has not made the finals the following year: Canterbury after 1980, 1988, 1995 and 2004, Parramatta after 1986, Penrith after 1991, Wests Tigers after 2005, and Melbourne after 2009, once the salary cap scandal exploded.
Notably, it has not occurred since the Storm were stripped of all points in 2010. So the odds are good that the Roosters will feature in the 2020 finals.
Twelve times since 1980 the side that was runner-up has failed to make the finals the following year: the Newtown Jets after 1981, the Dragons after 1985, 1993 and 1999, the Bulldogs after 1986, the Raiders after 1991, the Roosters after 2004 and 2010, the Cowboys after 2005 and 2017, the Eels after 2009 and the Warriors after 2011.
Seven of those instances have occurred during the NRL era, so the Raiders’ chances of featuring in September in 2020 are slightly shaky.
Further – and even worse still – in five instances, neither grand finalist has even qualified for the finals the following season: the Eels and Dogs after 1986, the Panthers and Raiders after 1991, the Bulldogs and Roosters after 2004, the Tigers and Cowboys after 2005, and the Storm and Eels after 2009.
The 2020 season will be a whole new ball game and this season’s form will have little relevance when the NRL gets underway again next March.