We may be just a couple of games into the new season but let’s not kid ourselves – this weekend’s round could be more crucial than some embattled coaches would be prepared to admit.
Some 104 years of history in this game will tell you Cronulla, South Sydney and Parramatta need to basically play this round’s match like it is a grand final because if they fall to a 0-3 record they can just about pack it up for 2012.
Only two teams in the history of rugby league in Australia have come back from a 0-3 start to win a premiership. Ouch! The first was the 1933 Newtown team and the other was South Sydney who came back from an early slump to take all the marbles in 1953.
(The ’33 Newtown team actually lost their opening four games – but the season was turned on its head when the Kangaroos boarded a boat for England five rounds in, stripping the better sides of their best players! This allowed the old Bluebags to storm home to glory.)
So as you can see, the likelihood of the 2012-model Sharks, Rabbitohs or Eels bucking history is just about zilch should they exit Round 3 minus the crucial competition points.
Knowing this, the Eels should fly to Far North Queensland with a sense of desperation; the Rabbitohs should drive to Penrith ready to fire up deluxe; and the Sharks should camp out at Toyota Stadium and lay in wait for their bitter rivals.
And yes, yes, I can already hear the drums and the Warriors’ fans pointing to last season’s grand final run… but while the 2011 Warriors lost their opening three games and ended up playing on the last weekend of the year, it’s in the record books that they left without the Telstra Premiership trophy.
The Warriors are actually one of just a few sides in recent times that have progressed to make an impact after such a poor start. Since the NRL formed in 1998 only six sides have managed to resurrect their years to contest the finals after starting with three losses.
If that isn’t meagre enough, consider the fact that four of those six teams were bundled out of the playoffs in the first week! Other than the Warriors’ run last year, only St George Illawarra’s 2005 side has shown any real fight after starting so poorly. The Dragons managed to bounce back to finish tied on top of the table but second on percentages in 2005, but even they failed when they were bundled out of the competition a week before the grand final by the underdog and eventual premiers 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 turned things around from an awful opening to an NRL year.
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 a total hindrance to at least making the top eight?
But getting back to the list of 105 premiers in this game (includes the 1997 Super League season and the two premierships won and then stripped from Melbourne), we see it’s not just fans of the Sharks, Eels and Rabbitohs who should be sweating during this week’s matches. There are 13 other teams who should be aware of the burden of history. That’s because a whopping 89 of the 105 champions had registered at least two wins just three games into the season: so far Bulldogs, Storm and Manly fans can at least be happy knowing they have met this mark.
But that trio should try to avoid a loss this week, as 58 of 105 winners were undefeated after Round 3. That’s more than 55 per cent of all rugby league champions in this country.
The Knights, Panthers, Broncos, Warriors, Raiders, Titans, Wests Tigers, Roosters, Cowboys and Dragons all enter this round with 1-1 records.
As stated above, a win this weekend would elevate them into the bracket that has delivered 85 per cent of Australian rugby league premiers. But a loss would plunge them into a lower 15 per cent group – and challenging against the odds.
Only nine teams have won the premiership from 1-2 records: 1944 Balmain, 1947 Balmain, 1955 Rabbitohs, 1975 Roosters, 1989 Raiders, 1993 Broncos, 2002 Roosters, 2003 Panthers, 2008 Sea Eagles. Two have won from 1-1 and a bye: 1985 Bulldogs, 2005 Wests Tigers. Three have gone on to win with a 1-1-1 record: 1966 Dragons, 1973 Sea Eagles, 2001 Knights.
Rest assured Stephen Kearney, Shane Flanagan and Michael Maguire won’t be throwing up a white flag if they lose this weekend, nor will any coach of a 1-2 team – but the numbers here prove history sure has a way of repeating itself.
So do what you can for your team – get to the venues to ensure your heroes get what could just be one of the most important results of their seasons.
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