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What are the KPIs for a premiership-winning team? It adds up to only four clubs a hope of winning 2023 NRL title

9th June, 2023
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Expert
9th June, 2023
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Every champion team has certain identifiable characteristics as well as plenty of intangible ones. 

But is it possible to predict, based on the evidence of the first 25 seasons of the NRL era, who can and cannot win the premiership this time around?

An in-depth analysis of 13 key performance indicators for the 13-a-side game reveals there are only four teams who stand a chance of holding the Provan-Summons Trophy aloft on October 1 at Accor Stadium. 

That is, if you believe in the weight of history when it comes to how the previous 25 teams have stacked up when it comes to lead-up form, attack and defence stats, for and against, home and away records, their number of Origin reps, how experienced their coach was and goal-kicking percentages.

After tallying up all the records over the past quarter-century and then eliminating the current teams – Survivor style – that don’t meet those benchmarks, there are 13 that are either no hope or in need of a drastic turnaround in the remaining months of the season to become premiers.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 02: Brian To'o of the Panthers celebrates after scoring a try during the 2022 NRL Grand Final match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels at Accor Stadium on October 02, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Here are the key stats and how important they are in building a premiership-winning team

Key performance indicators for premiers

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Lead-up form 

Of the 25 premiership-winning teams since 1998, all but three of them made the finals the previous season.

The only outliers were the 2003 Panthers, who were 12th the year before, the 2005 Tigers (up from their customary ninth in ‘04) and the 2013 Roosters, who were all the way down in 13th spot 12 months earlier.

Seventeen premiers (68%) finished in the top four the year before. 

The halfway mark of a premiership season is a more reliable indicator with only Tim Sheens’ Tigers surging all the way from outside the top eight – they were 11th in ‘05 before completing their improbable run.

And when it comes to the regular season, it’s clear – you have to finish in the top four if you want to get your hands on the trophy. No one has done so from a lower rank since the 1995 Bulldogs.

YearPremiersPrevious seasonHalfway mark of seasonRegular season finish
1998BroncosPremiers5th1st
1999Storm3rd3rd3rd
2000Broncos8th1st1st
2001Knights3rd1st3rd
2002Roosters6th6th4th
2003Panthers12th3rd1st
2004Bulldogs3rd2nd2nd
2005Tigers9th11th4th
2006Broncos3rd1st3rd
2007Storm*Minor premiers1st1st
2008Sea Eagles2nd1st2nd
2009Storm*Minor premiers6th4th
2010DragonsMinor premiers1st1st
2011Sea Eagles8th3rd2nd
2012StormMinor premiers1st2nd
2013Roosters13th3rd1st
2014Rabbitohs2nd5th3rd
2015Cowboys5th2nd3rd
2016Sharks6th1st3rd
2017Storm2nd1st1st
2018Roosters2nd7th1st
2019RoostersPremiers3rd2nd
2020Storm2nd3rd2nd
2021Panthers2nd1st2nd
2022PanthersPremiers1st1st
Storm’s 2007 and ’09 premierships were stripped after they had won the Grand Final for salary cap rorting
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Attack and defence 

The old adage that premierships are built on defence is not necessarily true. 

And you don’t always have to score the most points to emerge as premiers, but it definitely helps. 

Only three of the 25 champion outfits didn’t finish in the top four for points scored – the 2002 Roosters (sixth), ‘06 Broncos (12th) and ‘10 Dragons (eighth). 

And you need to rack up 40 at least once in the season – only the St George Illawarra side of 13 years ago, which topped out at 38, didn’t make it out of the 30s. 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 03: (L to R) Jamie Soward, Wayne Bennett and Dean Young of the Dragons celebrate after the NRL Grand Final match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on October 3, 2010 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Jamie Soward, Wayne Bennett and Dean Young celebrate after the 2010 Grand Final win by St George Illawarra. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

When it comes to defence, it definitely helps to be stingy but it’s not as important as it’s made out to be. 

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One in every five premiership-winning side has been ranked fifth or lower for points conceded – the 1999 Storm history-makers (fifth), Newcastle two years later (ninth), the ‘03 Panthers (seventh), the ‘05 Tigers (10th) and the Cowboys of 2015, who were fifth.

And it is true that if you concede 50 in the regular season, you won’t become premiers although Newcastle in 2001 and the Roosters the following year were each a missed conversion away from having a half-century put on them. 

YearPremiersRank in attackRank in defenceHighest scoreMost points conceded
1998Broncos1st1st6028
1999Storm1st5th6234
2000Broncos1st1st5628
2001Knights2nd9th6049
2002Roosters6th1st5848
2003Panthers3rd7th5242
2004Bulldogs1st3rd5440
2005Tigers2nd10th5444
2006Broncos12th1st5036
2007Storm*1st1st5830
2008Sea Eagles1st2nd5240
2009Storm*11th2nd4826
2010Dragons8th1st3832
2011Sea Eagles1st2nd4232
2012Storm2nd1st4640
2013Roosters1st1st5632
2014Rabbitohs3rd1st5030
2015Cowboys2nd5th5044
2016Sharks3rd2nd6232
2017Storm1st1st6438
2018Roosters4th1st5630
2019Roosters2nd2nd5838
2020Storm3rd2nd5030
2021Panthers4th1st5637
2022Panthers1st1st4638

For and against

The benchmark for premiers is to be at least 100 points up at the end of the regular season when it comes to for and against. 

As is often the case with these metrics, the ragtag 2005 Tigers look like the least probable premiers after only finishing 101 points plus.

But the star-studded Broncos the following year were only four points better before Wayne Bennett secured his final trophy for Brisbane.

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YearPremiersF&A differential
1998Broncos378
1999Storm392
2000Broncos308
2001Knights143
2002Roosters216
2003Panthers132
2004Bulldogs269
2005Tigers101
2006Broncos105
2007Storm*277
2008Sea Eagles290
2009Storm*157
2010Dragons219
2011Sea Eagles208
2012Storm218
2013Roosters315
2014Rabbitohs224
2015Cowboys133
2016Sharks176
2017Storm297
2018Roosters181
2019Roosters264
2020Storm258
2021Panthers286
2022Panthers306

Adam Reynolds celebrates during the 2014 GF. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Home and away record

To be the premiers, you have to win at least eight of your home matches with only the 2014 Rabbitohs, who went 7-5 as hosts, falling short of that benchmark. 

And you can’t be a slouch on the road either – all the premiers have managed to win at least half of their away fixtures, apart from the asterisk-addled 2009 Storm side which won just five of 12 games outside of Victoria. 

Although they made up for that by getting up in nine of their 11 matches in Melbourne.

YearPremiersHome recordAway record
1998Broncos10-28-3
1999Storm9-37-5
2000Broncos12-06-6
2001Knights9-47-5
2002Roosters8-37-5
2003Panthers8-410-2
2004Bulldogs11-18-4
2005Tigers8-46-6
2006Broncos8-46-6
2007Storm*12-09-3
2008Sea Eagles9-38-4
2009Storm*9-25-7
2010Dragons9-38-4
2011Sea Eagles11-17-5
2012Storm9-38-4
2013Roosters8-410-2
2014Rabbitohs7-58-4
2015Cowboys8-49-3
2016Sharks11-16-5
2017Storm9-311-1
2018Roosters8-48-4
2019Roosters9-38-4
2020Storm9-17-3
2021Panthers12-09-3
2022Panthers10-210-2
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Origin reps, coach’s experience, goal-kicking?

You would think the more Origin representatives you have, the better your chances are to win the competition. And that pretty much bears out.

It’s not an exact science because a team like the Warriors (if they ever won) wouldn’t necessarily have many NSW or Queensland players. 

On average, the premiers have 4.76 Origin reps that season but it varies wildly. Seven teams had three or less with the unheralded Panthers and Tigers a couple of decades ago snubbed altogether.

Whether your team has an inexperienced coach or a grizzled old soul calling the shots – the average in terms of seasons experience per premiership-winning mentor is 9.76.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy

Storm coach Craig Bellamy. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

But that number has been inflated by Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy’s success while there have been seven occasions where coaches have guided their team to glory within their first five years in the caper. 

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Goal-kicking is also not as crucial as you might think. 

In the past decade, no premiership-winning side has kicked at less than 73% but only five of the previous champions were above that mark, which is probably a reflection of the greater accuracy across the board in recent years.

YearPremiersOrigin repsCoach experienceGoal-kicking %
1998Broncos1112th season67.9
1999Storm410th season62.9
2000Broncos714th season72.7
2001Knights41st season80.6
2002Roosters31st season76.7
2003Panthers010th season70
2004Bulldogs57th season83.2
2005Tigers021st season81.6
2006Broncos920th season71.2
2007Storm*75th season69.2
2008Sea Eagles15th season67.3
2009Storm*67th season71.5
2010Dragons724th season74
2011Sea Eagles48th season70.5
2012Storm410th season70.9
2013Roosters41st season84.1
2014Rabbitohs33rd season79.1
2015Cowboys42nd season75.6
2016Sharks46th season73.6
2017Storm615th season75.4
2018Roosters36th season74.8
2019Roosters37th season75.2
2020Storm618th season86.2
2021Panthers715th season82
2022Panthers716th season83.6

Survivor style, what does it all mean? 

So if you apply these trends to the 2023 premiership, who is still in the running for the trophy? 

No one has come from lower than 13th the year before so that means the Knights, Warriors and last year’s wooden spooners Wests Tigers get the red line put through them. 

Panthers Sharks Cowboys Eels Storm Roosters Rabbitohs Raiders Broncos Dragons Manly Bulldogs Titans Knights Warriors Tigers  Dolphins

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You can’t be 12th or lower at the halfway point of the season, if history is any guide, so that’s bad news for the Eels, Titans, Cowboys, Bulldogs and Dragons. 

Panthers Sharks Cowboys Eels Storm Roosters Rabbitohs Raiders Broncos Dragons Manly Bulldogs Titans Knights Warriors Tigers  Dolphins

WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 30: Hayze Perham of the Bulldogs is tackled during the round nine NRL match between St George Illawarra Dragons and Canterbury Bulldogs at WIN Stadium on April 30, 2023 in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

That means the remaining nine teams need to finish the regular season in the top four.

Premiership-winning teams can’t be ranked below 12th in attack so that means the Sea Eagles, Storm and Roosters are not going to be premiers based on their current ratings of 13th, 14th and 17th respectively. 

Panthers Sharks Cowboys Eels Storm Roosters Rabbitohs Raiders Broncos Dragons Manly Bulldogs Titans Knights Warriors Tigers  Dolphins

And your defence can be no lower than 10th so of the remaining six sides, the Dolphins (12th) and Raiders (16th) don’t survive this cut. 

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Panthers Sharks Cowboys Eels Storm Roosters Rabbitohs Raiders Broncos Dragons Manly Bulldogs Titans Knights Warriors Tigers  Dolphins

That leaves four possible premiers – have they scored 38 or more in a game? Penrith – 53, tick. Cronulla – 44, tick. Souths – 50, tick. Brisbane have done so three times – tick, tick, tick. 

Panthers Sharks Cowboys Eels Storm Roosters Rabbitohs Raiders Broncos Dragons Manly Bulldogs Titans Knights Warriors Tigers  Dolphins

Have any of them conceded 50? Broncos let in 32 against the Bunnies, who had 36 put on them by Parra. Cronulla’s worst is 36 while 20 is the most anyone’s put on Penrith so far this season.

Panthers Sharks Cowboys Eels Storm Roosters Rabbitohs Raiders Broncos Dragons Manly Bulldogs Titans Knights Warriors Tigers  Dolphins

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 11: Patrick Carrigan of the Broncos runs the ball during the round 11 NRL match between Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos at AAMI Park on May 11, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Patrick Carrigan. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

For and against wise, the Panthers and Rabbitohs are already into three figures and the Broncos and Sharks are knocking on the door, so nothing to see here, move along.

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Panthers Sharks Cowboys Eels Storm Roosters Rabbitohs Raiders Broncos Dragons Manly Bulldogs Titans Knights Warriors Tigers  Dolphins

Home and away record, they’re all smashing it on the road but Cronulla are only just staying alive at 3-4 at Shark Park.

Panthers Sharks Cowboys Eels Storm Roosters Rabbitohs Raiders Broncos Dragons Manly Bulldogs Titans Knights Warriors Tigers  Dolphins

As for the remaining factors like Origin reps, their coach’s experience and goal-kicking, the Panthers are leaders in all three categories with six NSW players in game one, Ivan Cleary having a lot more years under his belt than Jason Demetriou, Craig Fitzgibbon and Kevin Walters and Penrith nailing kicks at 87.7% through Nathan Cleary and Stephen Crichton.

So there you have it. 

Based on these key performance indicators, there are realistically only four teams that could become premiers this year unless there are drastic form changes in the remaining rounds of the season. 

And those Panthers from Sydney’s west look like they’re well on track to becoming the first team since the 1983 Parramatta Eels to pull off the rare premiership three-peat. 

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But if you’ve made it this far you will know that the only surefire prediction you can make in rugby league is that until their team is are no longer a mathematical chance, every fan has hope.

And it’s the hope that kills you. 

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