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The Roar



The stats say losing the first game in an NRL season isn't so bad

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17th March, 2020

Before the season kicked off, I had a look at the record of the eventual premiers in Round 1 over the last 20 years.

My team, Manly, were playing the Storm and that historically means a loss for the Sea Eagles.

Possibly somewhere in the back of my mind I was anticipating a loss and wanted to see the raw figures on what this could indicate come the big game at season’s end.

The news is positive for Manly regarding a title win, but less so for making the decider and losing.

The Broncos, who won the title in 2000, had a 24-all draw with the Tigers and remarkably were beaten 36-4 by the Cownboys in 2006 – played at Suncorp, where the mighty Johnathan Thurston scored three tries – when they won their only other title in the last 20 years.

In 2001, the Knights won the title but were beaten by the Northern Eagles 12-10, of all teams, first up.

In 2002, the Roosters won 40-6, yet despite winning three more titles this century, they have lost all three first-round games – 28-10 to Souths in 2013, 10-8 to the Tigers in 2018 and 26-16 again to the Bunnies in 2019.

Anthony Minichiello takes it up against South Sydney

Digital Image by Robb Cox ©

In 2003, the Panthers won the title but lost Round 1 to the Broncos 24-20.

In 2004, the Bulldogs flogged the Eels 48-14.

In 2005, Wests Tigers had a memorable title win after getting sorted out by Parramatta first up 28-12.

In 2008, the Sea Eagles lost to the Sharks at Brookvale Oval 16-10 and continued a strange history against Cronulla in which either team has the wood on the other for long periods at the most puzzling times. Manly went on to win the title 40-nil against a Storm side minus Cameron Smith.

Manly also won in 2011, despite being favoured to miss the eight and losing Round 1 to the Storm 18-6.

In 2010, the Dragons won first up against the Eels 18-12.


In 2012, Melbourne won the title and, of course, the first round against the Raiders 24-19.

Craig Bellamy’s boys won it all again in 2017, following a first-round victory over the Tigers 12-6.

It was a big year for Souths in 2014 with a title and a first-round thumping of the Chooks 28-10.

2015 provides hope for any team which starts the season poorly, North Queensland winning their first crown despite losing the first game 28-4 to the Chooks, as well as their next two games. I still remember how poor the Cows looked in those games – their attack was dismal and highlights again that it’s the other end of the season which matters the most.

Johnathan Thurston

Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

2016 was another huge year for the code, with a maiden title win for the Sharks, despite a 20-14 loss to North Queensland in Round 1.

After the dust had settled after 20 seasons (one draw and no premiers in 2007 and ’09), the eventual premiers lost Round 1 11 times and only had six wins.


It’s a small sample size but it does show an initial loss is no reason for concern.

I also had a look at Round 1 for the losing grand finalists this century and it was virtually the reverse story – winning on 13 occasions and losing only five times.

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Typically the eventual runners up hit the ground running, with the lowest winning score being 18 points and plenty of totals in the 20s and 30s, as well as one in the 40s.

Only one team who lost a grand final this century copped a hiding in Round 1 – the 2015 Broncos’ suffering a 36-6 loss.