THE Warriors and the Titans, two of last year’s finalists, are battling history to make any real impact in this year’s premiership after both fell to an 0-3 start last weekend.
While there are still 21 games to be played by both sides, fans of these teams will not be comforted by the fact only five sides since the NRL formed in 1998 have managed to resurrect their year to be in the finals after starting with three losses.
If this isn’t scary enough, consider the fact that four of those five teams were bundled out of the playoffs in the first week!
Only St George Illawarra’s 2005 side has shown any real fight after starting so poorly. They managed to bounce back to finish tied on top of the table but second on percentages. But even they failed when they were bundled out of the competition a week before the grand final by the underdog Wests Tigers.
Manly in 2009 (finished fifth but were knocked out week one), Brisbane in 2007 (finished eighth and were hammered week one), Melbourne in 2000 (finished sixth but knocked out week one) and Brisbane again in 1999 (finished eighth but were knocked out week one) are the only other sides to have ever turned things around from an awful opening to the year.
The lowest-placed team after three rounds to ever go on and win a premiership was Canberra in 1989; they were 13th at this stage.
Perhaps the gilded lily can be found in the fact the ’99 Broncos, ’00 Storm, ’05 Dragons and ’09 Sea Eagles actually started 0-4… so maybe another week of sub-standard performance isn’t the final nail in the coffin? Probably though, as the average finishing position of 0-4 teams is 12th (don’t forget for a period their were only 14 and 15 teams) – with four teams having collected wooden spoons and a further two finishing second last.
So, does this make the game in Taupo, New Zealand and the one in Canberra ‘crunch’ or ‘must-win’ games inside the first month of the competition?
Well, for teams with a 1-3 record since 1998 the stats read a little more comforting. While it is a fact that only 12 of 40 teams to start a year 1-3 have gone on to make finals, two of those – the 2002 Roosters and the 2003 Panthers – have won the premiership. The 1999 Dragons also made the grand final before losing to the Storm.
Other than the Titans and Warriors, other potential 1-3 teams after this weekend are Canberra, the Roosters, Souths, Parramatta and Penrith.
The Warriors must now face the resurgent Sharks in Round 4 while the Titans have a tough trip to Canberra to take on the Raiders.
Dragons premiership captain Ben Hornby, a member of the 2005 Dragons who turned things around, has seen first-hand what the two clubs are going through. (Ironically, the Dragons’ two wins in 2011 have come against the Titans and Warriors.)
“The main thing is you have to worry less about the results and go out there and just try to go back to basics and play good footy,” Hornby tells nrl.com.
“What we tried to do in 2005 was to go out there and forget about the results, forget about the scoreboard and just go out there and play our best.
“We were able to turn it around because once you get your confidence back things start to fall into place and you can make things happen.”
Hornby certainly isn’t about to write off either team for the year – but he does concede the hardest part is probably craving that winning feeling.
For the Titans, their victory song hasn’t been belted out with gusto after a premiership match since September 10 last year (almost seven months ago and ironically against the Warriors in the finals); for the Warriors it was a week earlier, on September 4 against the Eels.
“It can be tough because it feels like forever since you’ve had a win and the more games you go without a win, the more the pressure mounts,” the Dragons skipper says.
“Every year is different but in 2005 we knew we had a good side, we just weren’t playing well. Both the Titans and Warriors have good players. Once we got the win the confidence was reassured and we pressed forward.
“You just need to go on a few mini-runs – you still have your losses but if you string a few together you can make a significant jump up the ladder. It was so close last year you could go from fifth or sixth to well outside the eight in a week.”