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Just three new teams are likely to be involved in this year’s finals series – if recent history is anything to go by.<br><br>Since the inception of the NRL in 1998 an average of three of the teams that played finals football the season before have failed to re-qualify the following season – which of course also means five of last year’s finalists should find themselves fighting for the premiership once more. Just as most pundits predict.<br><br>During the NRL’s existence there have always been at least four sides backing up a finals appearance with another. And in one case, seven of eight returned to September action. In fact, in that season – 2002 – it would have been all eight sides, had the Bulldogs not been punished with a points strip for rorting the salary cap.<br><br>Last year’s top eight comprised St George Illawarra, the Bulldogs, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Manly, Brisbane, Newcastle and Parramatta – so fans of these teams can either feel confident in the odds… or may start to panic wondering if they will be one of the three teams likely to drop back in the pack. <br><br>Persisting with this premise, it leaves Wests Tigers, South Sydney, North Queensland, Penrith, Canberra, the Warriors, Roosters and Cronulla vying for the three ‘open’ spots.<br><br>Obviously there are many factors that contribute to a side’s success, including their player roster, injuries, suspensions and the like, but the numbers since 1998 paint this story…<br><br>THE ROOSTERS, who finished last in 2009, do not need to feel like the finals are out of reach. Since 1998, four wooden-spoon sides have bounced back to play in the finals the following season. The Bulldogs finished last in 2002 before playing in the 2003 finals, Newcastle went from last in 2005 to the 2006 semis, South Sydney bounced back from a horror 2006 to play finals in 2007 and of course last season the Bulldogs almost went from last to first.<br><br>THE SHARKS, having finished second bottom rung on the ladder in 2009, can also take a little heart from the recent past – although not as much as the Roosters. Two sides – the Warriors from 2000-2001 and Canberra 2005-2006 – each turned a second-last place finish into a finals appearance 12 months down the track.<br><br>THE WARRIORS, who were third last in 2009, can also look to two other teams for inspiration. In 2004, Manly were third last and made the finals in 2005, while the 2007 Raiders claimed third last before playing finals football in 2008.<br><br>CANBERRA, who finished fourth last in 2009, look to be in a great spot to make a move according to the stats. Seven times during the past 11 seasons, the team that finished fourth last made the finals the year after – with Penrith even winning a competition, and Parramatta and Penrith claiming a minor premiership. The Bulldogs (2000-2001) Canberra (2001-2002), Penrith (2002-2003), Parramatta (2004-2005), Bulldogs (2005-2006), St George Illawarra (2007-2008) and the Gold Coast (2008-2009) have all made lemonade out of the lemons.<br><br>THE COWBOYS, who were fifth from last in 2009, can only draw precedent from two sides, their own club mates from 2003-2004, and Cronulla who made the move in 2005 after a poor 2004.<br><br>PENRITH, 11th in 2009, want to emulate St George Illawarra (2000-2001 and 2003-2004), Melbourne (2002-2003), Warriors (2006-2007), Cronulla (2007-2008) and Parramatta (2008-2009). Considering Parramatta went all the way to the grand final last year, the other team from out west will have plenty of motivation to do the same.<br><br>WESTS TIGERS &amp; SOUTH SYDNEY were each just a win or less from a finals berth in 2009; they can take heart knowing that 11 of 17 teams since 1998 who missed the finals by a win or less turned the following season into a successful one. <br><br>NUMBER OF TEAMS WHO FAILED TO BACK UP A FINALS APPEARANCE<br><br>1998-99: 3 teams (Manly, Canberra, Norths)<br>1999-00: 2 teams (St George Illawarra, Canterbury)<br>2000-01: 3 teams (Melbourne, Penrith, Canberra)<br>2001-02: 1 team (Bulldogs)<br>2002-03: 3 teams (St George Illawarra, Parramatta, Cronulla)<br>2003-04: 2 teams (Newcastle, Warriors)<br>2004-05: 4 teams (Canberra, Penrith, Bulldogs, Roosters)<br>2005-06: 3 teams (Wests Tigers, North Queensland, Cronulla)<br>2006-07: 3 teams (Canberra, St George Illawarra, Newcastle)<br>2007-08: 4 teams (Souths, Bulldogs, Parramatta, North Queensland)<br>2008-09: 4 teams (Warriors, Canberra, Roosters, Cronulla)
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