Stat Attack: Still finals hope for bottom four in 2018
While plenty of pundits have been happy to run a red line through the Eels, Cowboys, Sea Eagles and Bulldogs after their respective 2-6 starts to 2018, history shows all is not lost despite a slow start to the season.
Manly and Canterbury probably have a few other issues to work through before contemplating a run to the 2018 Telstra Premiership finals series. However for the Cowboys and Eels – grand finalists and top-four finishers respectively last year – all is not lost.
NRL.com Stats reveal that in the NRL era (1998-present) there have been nine clubs that made the finals despite winning only one or two games in the first eight rounds. There were six in history prior to that (St George in 1930 and '95, Wests in 1956 and '74 and Balmain in 1961 and '75).
It happened as recently as last season, when Penrith didn't pick up their third win until round 10 before charging through to the second week of the finals.
In a bright omen for Eels fans, Parramatta represents two of those past nine occasions (in 2000 and 2006). Admittedly in 2000 there were only 14 teams in the competition and Parramatta's first eight weeks included two wins and one draw.
But in 2006 their third win didn't come until round 12 (and their third win until round 15) before nine straight wins helped them sneak into eighth. They were only narrowly tipped out 12-6 by eventual grand finalists Melbourne in week one of the finals.
The 2009 Sea Eagles lost their opening four games and surged all the way to fifth place by the end of the regular season. They were still bundled out in the opening week of the finals under the old McIntyre system courtesy of upsets from the late-surging Eels over minor premiers the Dragons, plus the Broncos over the third-placed Titans, in a result which triggered the move to the current finals structure.
In 2002 two clubs actually did it in the same season; the Raiders went from last after seven rounds to sneaking into eighth (courtesy of the ladder-leading Bulldogs being stripped of their points for salary cap breaches) while the Dragons didn't pick up their second win until round nine but still finished seventh and progressed to the second week of the finals.
The 2002 Dragons are one of just two clubs (along with the 1999 Broncos) with just one win in the first eight weeks to make the finals.
The Broncos of '99 set the benchmark for worst start to a season: five losses to start the year, a win in round six, a draw in round eight, and their second win in round 11, before 11 straight wins plus two byes catapulted them up the ladder.
They spent the final six weeks of the regular season inside the top eight - although they were then convincingly beaten in week one of the finals by Cronulla, 42-20.
None of the nine clubs who recovered to make the finals ended up making the big dance, and six were still bundled out in the first week.
The 2000 Eels fared best, upsetting the third-placed Roosters in week one before comfortably beating Penrith in the semi-finals before a hard-fought 16-10 loss to eventual premiers Brisbane in the grand final qualifier.