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Stat Attack: Late-season form irrelevant heading into finals

With all the consternation from fans over the late-season form slumps for the finals-bound Dragons, Panthers and Rabbitohs, Stats has waded through the archives and determined that, particularly in recent years, strong form leading into the finals has little bearing on a club's premiership hopes.

Over the past 10 years, teams that have made that year's grand final have averaged 3.25 wins in their final five regular season matches. Only once in that period (Melbourne last year) has a team gone into the Telstra Premiership finals on the back of five straight wins.

Those numbers are skewed upwards by the 2008 to 2012 period where seven of 10 teams won four of five heading in. Over the past five years, grand final teams average just 2.5 wins in five games before the finals.

Never in NRL history had a team made a decider after winning just one of its final five round games until the Sharks did in in 2016, going on to take out a drought-breaking premiership. The Cowboys matched them the very next year, struggling to eighth before charging all the way through the finals before going down to a near-unstoppable Storm side.

In 2015, both the Cowboys and Broncos had won just two of five games leading into September while the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs combined for five wins in 10 games before the 2014 finals series.

And at risk of bringing up painful memories for Brisbane, Parramatta and Canberra fans in particular: winning form is certainly no guarantee of finals success any more than losing form is a guarantee of finals failure.

Just last year, top-four teams Parramatta and Brisbane each won four of their final five regular-season games then won just one of five finals games between them.

The year before, second-finishing Canberra and fifth-placed Brisbane each won five straight heading into the finals while premiers North Queensland won their final three regular season games, and none made it to the proverbial big dance (though Canberra and North Queensland each made it to the grand final qualifier).

What that proves ahead of this year's finals series is that if the likes of St George Illawarra and Penrith can recapture something like the form that propelled them to the top two spots on the ladder through 14 rounds of this year, there is nothing to stop them going on a run to September 30's decider.

The St George Illawarra Dragons.
The St George Illawarra Dragons. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

No doubt the manner of the Dragons' losses to the Eels and Bulldogs will be of concern to fans but if they can topple the Knights in Newcastle this weekend (which is no simple task on Old Boys' Day) they will hit the finals with two wins from five games which is almost par in recent NRL terms.

Penrith fans will no doubt be nervous about the manner of the team's defeats to the Warriors and Knights over the past fortnight (and the previous win, against the Titans in round 22, will do little more to inspire confidence) – especially given the coaching upheaval at the club.

However the worst they can do is to hit the finals with two wins from five games and it could be three if they find a way to upset the Storm this weekend.

The Rabbitohs are actually at risk of having the worst recent form of any finals team this year; they are sitting on three straight losses now so if they go down to Wests Tigers this weekend they will be one of five going into the finals with no wins since an impressive one over the Storm in round 21.

Barring a huge boilover against the Eels, the Roosters will head in with a three-from-five record and Brisbane the same assuming a win at home against Manly.

The Warriors can go in with four wins from their final five if they can overcome Canberra this weekend.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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