Stats Insider: Could injuries cost your team the title?

There is a 67 per cent chance the Wests Tigers and Gold Coast Titans will not win the premiership this season despite both being in the top five at the moment, according to official NRL statistics. <br><br>A spate of injuries and potential suspensions across the weekend have potentially disrupted the finals charge of a number of teams – prompting Stats Insider to look under the hood of the past 12 grand final-winning squads to find out how critical forced depth has been.<br><br>Since 1998 an average of just over 28 players have been used by the grand final-winning club during the premiership year, or an extra 11 players after the club’s “strongest 17”.<br><br>(In an interesting side note, perhaps the fact the premiership-winning side has needed on average three more players outside a top 25 paid players is an advertisement for a larger squad, or perhaps a stronger second-tier competition for over-age players…)<br><br>Just four of the 12 winning sides used 29 or more players in their triumphant year, giving a two-thirds majority to teams who are healthier than the average. <br><br>Obviously fielding your strongest team is a huge advantage but with the reality being no side will ever go through a season with their top 17 intact for every match, the continuity of having as few changes as possible is one coaches yearn for. <br><br>It should come as little surprise to learn the Bulldogs, Melbourne and North Queensland – all teams out of contention – have used 30 or more players through Round 22. <br><br>As teams like South Sydney continue to lose players to injury, is the sheer burden of relying on depth going to kill them off? Do clubs, or just the game itself, have the quality cover in which to rely on?<br><br>Currently there are 12 teams still holding out hopes of playing finals football. Already three of those have used more than the average 28 players, showing their seasons have suffered some strain.<br><br>Canberra (29 players used so far), the Gold Coast (30) and the Wests Tigers (30) are all fighting against the grain of recent history. <br><br>However, it must be noted that a team might have suffered all of their disruption early on and therefore may recover late in the year with a close-to-full-strength line-up, so fans of these three clubs need not give up hope just yet!<br><br>Plus, in 2002 the Sydney Roosters won the title after using 34 players during the season – so this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, it’s more about playing the odds.<br><br>South Sydney, Brisbane and the Roosters are all on the 28-players-used mark and with injury ruling out the likes of Darren Lockyer (Brisbane), John Sutton (South Sydney) and Kane Linnett (Roosters) among others, this could potentially rise above the “cut line” if they need to go into the bank for an unused player. <br><br>Meanwhile Newcastle, Parramatta and St George Illawarra have used 27 players up to and including Round 22, putting them close to the average.<br><br>The side with the least disruption thus far has been Manly Warringah who have used just 23 players this season and although Josh Perry suffered a serious leg injury on the weekend they will probably still hold this number going forward, to be a whole three players ahead of their nearest rivals. <br><br>Of the remaining contenders, the Warriors and the Panthers have used 26 players in first grade thus far. <br><br>The Broncos of 1998 were a dominant force and used just 23 players, the best of recent premiers. In 2005, the year the Wests Tigers went on a golden run to win their maiden title, coach Tim Sheens made no secret of the fact the team’s limited injury concerns all year had played a major role in getting the job done. <br><br>With his main starters to choose from each and every week towards the back end of the season the Tigers grabbed plenty of momentum, capitalised on the bonds and combination formed throughout the year, and rode the wave to the trophy. <br><br>This is a luxury South Sydney won’t have, as they battle to cobble together a news halves pairing. And the Roosters need to tweak with their edges while Mitch Aubusson remains out and Linnett goes into recovery. The Broncos also need to find a new halves combo this week – right when they need to continue winning. <br><br>If new faces keep cropping up by necessity, the odds of certain sides holding the Telstra Premiership Trophy aloft in October will continue to blow out. <br><br><b>Players used by teams in contention</b><br><br>SEA EAGLES: 23<br>WARRIORS: 26<br>PANTHERS: 26<br>KNIGHTS: 27<br>EELS: 27<br>DRAGONS: 27<br>BRONCOS: 28<br>RABBITOHS: 28<br>ROOSTERS: 28<br>RAIDERS: 29<br>WESTS TIGERS: 30<br>TITANS: 30<br><br><b>Players used by Grand Final-winning teams</b><br><br>2009 – STORM: 28<br>2008 – SEA EAGLES: 27<br>2007 – STORM: 30<br>2006 – BRONCOS: 32<br>2005 – WESTS TIGERS: 26<br>2004 – BULLDOGS: 27<br>2003 – PANTHERS: 28<br>2002 – ROOSTERS: 34<br>2001 – KNIGHTS: 28<br>2000 – BRONCOS: 30<br>1999 – STORM: 26<br>1998 – BRONCOS: 23