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Fact or fable - do you really have to lose a grand final to win one?

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Roar Guru
15th October, 2023

“You have to lose a grand final in order to win one”. Have you heard that one before? It’s one of those rugby league chestnuts that gets trotted out every year.

Presumably, it’s based on the notion that only after playing and losing a grand final, can a team have both sufficient experience to handle the key moments in a decider together with the burning desire born of the disappointment of losing a GF in order to go to the next level and win a premiership.

It’s a platitude often handed out to losing teams, however, it certainly worked for the Panthers in recent years, as after going down by 26-20 to the Storm in 2020 they haven’t lost a grand final since. Maybe it’s a case of you have to lose one to win three?

Now, putting the remarkable recent feats of the Panthers aside, how does the ‘lose one to win one’ mantra play out across the NRL era?

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 01: Nathan Cleary of the Panthers poses with the Provan-Summons Trophy after winning the 2023 NRL Grand Final match between Penrith Panthers and Brisbane Broncos at Accor Stadium on October 01, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The stats in this regard make for very interesting reading, particularly if you’re a Storm fan.

Melbourne have lost four grand finals in the NRL era (2006, 2008, 2016 and 2018), and have bounced back to win the following year’s decider on all but one occasion. The only year they didn’t achieve an immediate bounce-back was after their loss to the Roosters in 2018, but they soon made amends by winning the competition in 2020. Melbourne fans will of course be aware that they had premierships stripped for salary cap breaches in two of the years they bounced back, namely 2007 and 2009. Bad luck.

The only other team to achieve an immediate bounce back was Manly, who avenged their 2007 defeat at the hands of Melbourne just a year later, while the Roosters also could claim to ‘win one after losing one’ both in 2002, after losing the decider in 2000, and 2013, after losing to the Dragons in 2010.


In the five other occasions in the NRL era where a team has lost a grand final and then gone on to eventually win one in a later year, the average gap between losing and winning has averaged over nine years.

What all this means, of course, is that the results just don’t support the aforementioned theory, as the close correlation between losing and winning a grand final has only occurred eight times in the NRL era, and even then two of the premierships were bogus.

Here are some more interesting observations:

– On eight occasions, teams losing a grand final missed the top eight altogether the following season (Parramatta, North QLD and the Roosters twice each, plus the Dragons and the Warriors). I wonder where the Broncos will finish next season?

– The Eels have lost three grand finals in the NRL era (2001, 2009 and 2022) and still haven’t gone on to win another premiership. Will they ever?

– The Warriors (2002 and 2011) and the Bulldogs (2012 and 2014) have each lost two grand finals without subsequently going on to lift the trophy.


So, what does all this mean? Well, other than the fact that I’ve clearly got far too much time on my hands, it means that the ‘you have to lose one to win one’ myth is busted.

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In fact, if your team loses the grand final, you’re just as likely going to be missing the finals altogether the next year rather than win a premiership.