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NRL Telstra Premiership 2009

Stats Insider: Why the top-eight order matters

Ben Everill NRL.com Thu, Sep 01, 2011 - 12:10 PM

Can the Dragons defy history and defend their premiership from outside the NRL's top four? Copyright: NRL Photos

With just one round remaining 10 teams can still mathematically feature in the finals this season – and not one position in the top eight is officially confirmed.

While Melbourne, Manly, Brisbane, the Wests Tigers, North Queensland, St George Illawarra and the Warriors are all certain to play finals football, none of them know exactly where they’ll finish.

The Storm, Sea Eagles and Broncos are entrenched in the top three and likely to finish in that order – but that isn’t confirmed just yet as big wins or losses could change things.

The Wests Tigers, Cowboys, Dragons and Warriors can still all push a way into fourth place, although the Tigers appear odds-on.

And the Knights and Rabbitohs are in a sudden-death battle for eighth; although if they were to play out a rare draw the Bulldogs could actually swoop in to the finals with a last-round win.

So, just how important is positioning inside the top eight? Very important if the history of the McIntyre Finals System is analysed.

It has been proven teams can come from anywhere to challenge for the title. Parramatta stormed from eighth in 2009, the Roosters from sixth last season. But both teams lost in the decider, continuing a 12-year run of glory for top-four teams.

Since the McIntyre System was introduced in 1999 every single grand final winner started the finals in the top four. With last year’s premiers St George Illawarra likely to be playing from the bottom half can we already assume a new champion will be crowned?

Last year the minor premier Dragons went on to win the major crown – possibly extra incentive for Melbourne to get the job done against the Roosters on Sunday night.

But it hasn’t been all rosy for minor premiers. They have only won the major title four times (33 per cent); team two has held the premiership trophy aloft just twice (17 per cent) while teams three and four have each won the title three times (25 per cent). It appears finishing in the top two hasn’t turned out to be the blessing it is supposed to be.

The Storm can take some solace in the history of making the grand final from position one. In terms of simply making the grand final minor premiers have done so on nine of 12 seasons, or 75 per cent of the time. Of course, the flip side is that on five of the nine occasions the minor premier lost the decider… but at least they were there!

We all remember Parramatta’s glory run in 2009 from eighth spot, the lowest-placed regular season team to ever make the grand final, but aside from them, the 1999 sixth-placed Dragons, the 2005 fifth-placed Cowboys and the 2010 sixth-placed Roosters are the only sides to get to the grand final from the lower half of the eight. So just four of 24 grand final teams have come from the low side – that’s just 17 per cent – and as stated before, they have a zero per cent success rate in the big game.

(As a small sidenote, the team finishing third in the minor premiership has a three-from-three record and the team running fourth has a two-from-two record when they have made the grand final – so they tend to make it and win it, or not make it at all. Team two has been runner up on three occasions.)

In terms of finals series streaks (this is discounting whatever winning streak a side may have been on entering the finals) on nine of 12 occasions the team that hoisted the trophy went through the finals without a loss, meaning only three teams have successfully recovered from an opening week playoff loss to win the premiership.

As most fans are aware, the McIntyre System pits team one against team eight, team two against team seven, team three against team six, and team four against team five in the opening week of the finals with the two lowest-ranked losers eliminated. This actually puts teams three and four at risk of elimination in Week One of the finals and while it has yet to happen, the Warriors and Eels have proven eight can beat one, having done so in recent years.

Team eight had miraculous wins over team one in 2008 and 2009 but it still equates to just a 17 per cent win ratio in Week One of the finals. Amazingly, team six has a better ratio of wins over team three, despite giving up home ground advantage.  

Here is the breakdown of all teams’ results in Week One.

Team One: 10 wins, 2 losses (83 per cent win ratio)
Team Two: 7 wins, 5 losses (58 per cent win ratio)
Team Three: 5 wins, 7 losses (42 per cent win ratio)
Team Four: 8 wins, 4 losses (67 per cent win ratio)
Team Five: 4 wins, 8 losses (33 per cent win ratio)
Team Six: 7 wins, 5 losses (58 per cent win ratio)
Team Seven: 5 wins, 7 losses (42 per cent win ratio)
Team Eight: 2 wins, 10 Losses (17 per cent win ratio)

These results have obviously had different permutations in different seasons but the end result has seen the following trends.

Team eight has been eliminated in the first week on 10 of 12 occasions and team seven has also been given the quick punt seven out of 12 times. But perhaps a little more worrying for those teams travelling a little better is the fact team six has gone straight out of the finals on four occasions and team five bombed out in 2004 and then again in 2009 when Manly were the unlucky losers.

There is also the age-old question about whether or not a week off in the final series (earned by the two highest-ranked winners after Week One) is beneficial or a hindrance. Well the results over the past 12 years suggest the debate will rage on, with those with a week off winning on 55 per cent of occasions and losing 45 per cent of the time the week after a layoff. It does show that the break is certainly not necessarily the huge bonus it is made out to be… although it does guarantee your side won’t be eliminated in Week Two!

Another interesting fact that should not be overlooked is at least one of the top five sides each and every year has gone straight out the back door of the finals with back-to-back losses.

The 2009 Dragons became the first minor premier to suffer this fate, thanks to straight losses against the Eels and Broncos in a year where amazingly, the third-placed Titans were also pummelled out in ‘straight sets’.

Last year Penrith were the unlucky losers, gone quickly despite finishing second in the regular season. They were the third team to have done so from second place (look out Manly).

The 1999 Roosters finished fourth before getting bundled out with successive losses. The 2000 Panthers (fifth), 2001 Bulldogs (second), 2002 Knights (second), 2003 Raiders (fourth), 2004 Broncos (third), 2005 Broncos (third), 2006 Sea Eagles (fifth), 2007 Warriors (fourth), 2008 Roosters (fourth), the 2009 Dragons (first) and Titans (third) and 2009 Panthers all suffered the same inglorious fate. This begs the question… which top five side – or sides – will slide out the back door this year?

This and many questions are still to be answered as we enter the final round of the minor premiership.

Where will your team finish? With the above statistics in mind, what does that mean for their premiership chances? Will they make the finals but then just prove cannon fodder? Remember, you can try to predict the scores on our ladder predictor.

POSSIBLE SCENARIOS

Melbourne (Currently 1st)
Best Case: 1st – Win against Roosters OR lose and Manly lose to Brisbane OR lose and Manly win against Brisbane but fail to overcome 29 differential points.
Worst Case: 2nd – Lose to Roosters and Manly beat Brisbane and overcome 29 differential points.
Likely Finish: 1st

Manly (2nd)
Best Case: 1st – Win against Brisbane and Melbourne lose to Roosters and overcome 29 differential points.
Worst Case: 3rd – Lose by 43 points or more to Brisbane.
Likely Finish: 2nd

Brisbane (3rd)
Best Case: 2nd – Win by 43 points of more over Manly.
Worst Case: 3rd – Lose to Manly OR win by 42 or fewer points over Manly.
Likely Finish: 3rd

Wests Tigers (4th)
Best Case: 4th – Win over Cronulla and maintain healthier differential over the Cowboys if they beat the Warriors. (Currently 17 differential points ahead).
Worst Case: 7th – Lose to Cronulla heavily and Dragons beat Penrith and Warriors beat Cowboys but differential of Cowboys surpasses Tigers.
Likely Finish: 4th

North Queensland (5th)
Best Case: 4th – Beat the Warriors and West Tigers lose to Cronulla OR beat the Warriors and Wests Tigers beat Cronulla but Cowboys overcome differential difference of 17.
Worst Case: 7th – Lose to the Warriors and Dragons beat Penrith and Wests Tigers win or stay above on differential.
Likely Finish: 7th

St George Illawarra (6th)
Best Case: 4th – Win over Penrith and Wests Tigers lose to Cronulla and North Queensland lose to Warriors.
Worst Case: 7th – Lose to Penrith and Warriors beat Cowboys.
Likely Finish: 5th

Warriors (7th)
Best Case: 4th – Beat Cowboys and Dragons lose to Penrith and Wests Tigers lose to Cronulla.
Worst Case: 7th – Lose to Cowboys.
Likely Finish: 6th

Newcastle (8th)
Best Case: 8th – Beat the Rabbitohs
Worst Case: 10th – Lose to the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs beat Canberra.
Likely Finish: 8th

South Sydney (9th)
Best Case: 8th – Beat Newcastle
Worst Case: 10th – Lose or draw to Newcastle and Bulldogs beat Canberra.
Likely Finish: 10th

Canterbury (10th)
Best Case: 8th – Beat Canberra and Souths and Newcastle draw OR Souths win by one point against Knights and Bulldogs beat Raiders by 41 points.
Worst Case: 10th – Lose to Canberra.
Likely Finish: 9th