Stat Attack: Incredible numbers show how close finals race is
By now we all realise the 2018 finals race is very close – but the raw numbers highlight just how unusually close the final Telstra Premiership ladder turned out to be, with just two points separating first and eighth.
NRL.com stats delved back through every season since the NRL's 1998 formation and the previous closest ever finals race was eight points separating first from eighth, which happened in 2014, 2008, 2005 and 1999.
Even striking out the Storm from first place in their three stripped minor premiership years of 2006-08, there were at least eight points separating second from eighth in each of those years.
So close was this year's finals race that every spot in the top eight was fluid heading into the final week of the regular season, with neither the home nor away team in any of the four finals week one fixtures locked in prior to round 25.
Even with 14 or 15 teams from 2000 to 2006 the finals were never near this close. The narrowest previous finals margin of eight points occurred most recently in 2014, between minor premiers the Roosters (36 points) and Broncos on 28.
It also happened in 2008, the Storm finished on 38 and while that minor premiership was later stripped for salary cap breaches, Manly finished second on differential also on 38, eight clear of the Warriors on 30.
Even going all the way back to 1980, through the ARL era, Super League and the old NSWRL competition, the closest finals series on record was in 1993.
That is the only other instance in the past four decades of two points separating all the finals contenders and that came in a top-five finals structure when the Bulldogs (34) finished top and Brisbane (32) in fifth. Had that season had a top eight, it would have been an 11-point gap down to Easts on 23 points.
Perhaps unsurprisingly that season is responsible for one of the lowest-placed grand final winners in history, with Brisbane sweeping through four straight finals wins to take it out from fifth. The Bulldogs winning from sixth – a massive 12 ladder points behind minor premiers Manly – in 1995 remains the record.
In conclusion? This is arguably the tightest finals race ever, with as good a chance as any year of being the first to see a premier from outside the top four since that 1995 season.