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Opinion

The 50-point hoodoo is bollocks – the Rabbitohs are a red hot chance

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Expert
30th September, 2021
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Anyone writing off the South Sydney Rabbitohs simply because they have conceded 50 points in two games this season are kidding themselves.

The South Sydney Rabbitohs are in the 2021 grand final up to their eyeballs.

Everyone has heard the oft-raised statistic that no side has ever won the premiership in the same year that they’ve conceded 50 points or more in a match.

This is the year that hoodoo could well be broken.

Why?

Because, while the Rabbitohs have indeed conceded 50 points twice in 2021, those results aren’t what they appear to be.

Firstly, their 50-0 loss in Round 9 was against a full-strength Storm side that was revelling in the V’landys Ball rules. Craig Bellamy and his men had worked out to fine point how to exploit the set restarts and they were putting sides to the sword on the back of possession ratios unseen since the St George Dragons’ 11 seasons of domination under the unlimited tackle rule.

In this mood, they came up against a side without Latrell Mitchell, Cam Murray and Adam Reynolds. The lopsided possession saw the Storm have the ball for over 11 more minutes than the depleted Rabbitohs.

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Two rounds later, the Rabbits travelled to Dubbo and got towelled up by the Panthers to the tune of 56-12. While the cardinal and myrtle were at near full-strength, they had a dirty day against a red-hot Panthers side. The Panthers had the ball for 15 more minutes than the Rabbitohs.

“A dirty day?!” I hear you scream. “Surely that they are capable of such a bad performance is exactly why that 50-point conceded ‘rule’ has stood the test of time. The Rabbitohs aren’t real contenders.”

In a normal season, I would be inclined to agree with you. Any side that lets in 56 points while at near full-strength just isn’t the real deal.

However, this is no normal season. This is league in the time of COVID-19, compounded by the mayhem of V’landys Ball.

This has created a paradigm unlike any other seen before. Comparing season 2021 to any other is not comparing apples with apples. It is comparing apples with guava.

Consider these figures from the last three normal seasons: 2017, 2018 and 2019. In each of those seasons, there were four, seven and five games respectively in which one side beat another and scored 50 points or more in the process.

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That is an average of five floggings a season featuring 50-plus scores being conceded by a side. Under those normal circumstances, it is reasonable that a side conceding 50 points or more in a game could have a line drawn through them.

But we aren’t under those normal circumstances.

Wayne Bennett

Can Wayne’s Bunnies get over the hoodoo on Sunday? (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

In 2021, there have been 19 games with a side chalking up 50 points-plus. That is almost four times the average, just under a 300 per cent increase. With the incidence of the floggings being so spectacularly high, the significance of conceding a 50-plus score line decreases accordingly.

To further illustrate that point, in the last ten seasons before this one, the average points scored in total per game is 40.8. This year, that average is 46.3. That is an additional 5.5 points scored a game on average. That’s an extra 1,000-plus points scored.

Now, consider this. Of the Premiers of the last 30 seasons – from 2020 back to 1991 – there have been ten incidences of the eventual Premiers conceding 40 points-plus in a loss. Put each of those ten sides in a V’landys Ball environment and it is more than a reasonable bet that more than a couple of those defeats would see the half-entury brought up.

Who knows what the score of the 2001 Newcastle Knights’ loss to the Sharks in Round 22 of their premiership season would have been under V’landys ball rules? It is a good bet that the 34-49 score line would have been bigger.

Similarly, the North Queensland Cowboys’ 22-44 loss to the Broncos in Round 3 of 2015 would probably see the Cows concede 50-plus if that match was run the way games have been in 2021.

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The 50-point conceded stat is definitely not one that the Rabbitohs should be concerned about. For a starter, their defence has been rock solid in the latter half of season 2021.

In the latter half of the season and in the finals so far, there is no doubt that we’ve seen players able to once again slow the ruck down significantly. The Rabbitohs are incredibly unlikely to concede such a huge score line now.

In their last eight games, the Rabbitohs have only conceded over 16 points once: their Round 23 25-12 loss to the Panthers.

What should be concerning for South Sydney is that recent loss to the Panthers, as well as the far-west Sydney club having history on their side.

In the last 30 seasons there have been eight instances of the previous season’s losing grand finalists making the decider the next season. Only the 1992-1993 St George Dragons and the 2003-2004 Sydney Roosters have lost the second time up.

The 1991 Panthers, 1995 Bulldogs, 1996 Sea Eagles, 2007 Storm, 2008 Sea Eagles and the 2017 Storm all made amends for the previous year’s disappointment. That is 75 per cent of the time.

What that really highlights is that grand final experience really counts.

It is in that department that the Panthers have a clear advantage.

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Panthers Grand finals
played
Games played
Dylan Edwards 1 79
Stephen Crichton 1 52
Paul Momirovski 0 38
Matt Burton 0 31
Brian To’o 1 52
Jarome Luia 1 65
Nathan Cleary 1 119
Moses Leota 1 104
Api Koroisau 2 144
James Fisher-Harris 1 133
Viliame Kikau 1 97
Kurt Capewell 1 95
Isaah Yeo 1 172
Tyrone May 1 55
Scott Sorenson 0 58
Spencer Leniu  0 35
Liam Martin 1 64
Total 14 1393
(avg. 82)
Rabbitohs Grand finals
played
Games played
Blake Taafe 0 7
Alex Johnston 1 165
Dane Gagai 0 226
Campbell Graham 0 89
Jaxson Paulo 0 25
Cody Walker 0 141
Adam Reynolds 1 231
Mark Nicholls 0 110
Damien Cook 0 146
Tevita Tatola 0 92
Keaon Koloamatangi 0 37
Jaydn Su’A 0 83
Cameron Murray 0 103
Benji Marshall 1 346
Jacob Host 0 71
Thomas Burgess 1 187
Jai Arrow 0 102
Total 4 2161
(avg. 127)

The Panthers have 13 players who are backing up from last year’s grand final loss, with Api Koroisau having also played in the Rabbitohs’ 2014 triumph. For the Rabbitohs, Adam Reynolds, Thomas Burgess and Alex Johnston are also veterans of that victory over the Bulldogs. And, of course, Benji Marshall was victorious with the Wests Tigers in 2005.

Benji Marshall

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

However, another stat that has been significant in the past is the overall experience of the side. The Rabbitohs have a distinct advantage there. The cardinal and myrtle boast 768 more first grade games – that translates to an average of 45 more games per player.

The Panthers have only five players with 100 or more games experience, while the Rabbitohs boast ten. It is this experience that could prove invaluable under pressure.

Then there is the gulf in coaching experience to consider. I am an unabashed fan of both Ivan Cleary and Wayne Bennett as coaches. Bennett has coached five sides and taken four of them to grand finals. Only the 1987 loss with the Canberra Raiders and the Broncos 2015 defeat blemish his record in deciders. He has won seven of the nine he has gone to.

This will be Ivan Cleary’s third grand final (Warriors 2011, Panthers 2020, 2021) as coach and he is yet to win one. However, an examination of all of the premiership coaches in the NRL era shows that the more experienced coach has only won about half the time.

In reality these two sides are extremely evenly matched.

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For mine this game will come down to two key considerations.

1. Adam Reynolds
In his very last game for the club he has played all of his 231 matches for, he may be carrying an injury that will keep him from his best. However, as his role is primarily to guide the side around the field, only the most debilitating injury should see him as a crucial weakness.

2. Blake Taaffe
The South Sydney junior has done extremely well in replacing the irreplaceable Latrell Mitchell. However, his eighth first grade game is going to be a grand final. That is an incredible and possibly overwhelming experience for the 22-yea- old.

There is no question that he will be relentlessly targeted by the Panthers. How he performs in this game will be key to the result.

For me, it is going to be the Panthers in a very close one.

But I’m not putting any money on it.

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