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History against Bunnies’ bid to rise from runners-up to premiers but offers Parra-noid fans some hope

After every Grand Final, everyone in the losing team consoles themselves with the old “we’ll go one better next year” line.

It’s what sportspeople at all levels are conditioned to say and it’s a natural reaction when you get so close to the summit to think that next time it will only take a little bit extra to be standing at the top of the mountain rejoicing.

In the NRL, it’s not that easy.

More often than not, the team that finishes runner-up goes into a tailspin the next season and only rarely gets back to the GF let alone winning it.

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Conventional wisdom used to be “you had to lose a Grand Final to win one”.

Teams like Parramatta’s dynasty of the early 1980s, Manly in 1987, Canberra in 1989 and Penrith in 1991, the Bulldogs in ‘95 were all examples of clubs that had lost a premiership decider, or two, in the years leading up to their trophy success. 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 11: Isaiah Tass of the Rabbitohs celebrates with teammates after scoring a try during the NRL Elimination Final match between the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Wayne Bennett’s Broncos bucked that trend in 1992 when they won the Grand Final at their first attempt and Newcastle did likewise in the memorable ARL decider of ‘97.

Since then, of the 24 teams that finished runner-up in the NRL era, there have been only three legitimate occasions when that club has bounced back to become premiers the next season. 

The Storm did it in 2006-07 and 2008-09 but those titles were stripped due to salary cap rorting. 

Manly achieved the feat in 2008 when they exacted revenge on Melbourne in their 40-0 avalanche, the Storm turned the pain of their 2016 loss to Cronulla into a comprehensive win over the Cowboys 12 months later and Penrith did likewise last year when they jumped their final hurdle by beating South Sydney.

The Rabbitohs are hoping to add their name to that small list by turning the tables on the Panthers in Saturday night’s Preliminary Final at Accor Stadium and then going on to register premiership No.22 in 2022 with a victory over the Cowboys or Eels.

The Panthers celebrate with the NRL Premiership Trophy

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

They’ve done better than most runners-up over the past 25 years.

The average finishing position for a team coming off a second placing is 6.24 – the Warriors in 2012 had the most dramatic drop-off on the back of coach Ivan Cleary’s exit to Penrith, ending up 14th the year after they had gone down to Manly in the Grand Final.

North Queensland in 2018 (13th after their thrashing at the hands of Melbourne) and Parramatta in 2010 (12th when the Hayne Plane crashed back to earth after the tainted Storm beat them on Grand Final night) are two other clubs which fell off a cliff after going so close to premiership glory.

How runners-up have fared in NRL era

Year Team Next season finishing spot
1997 (ARL) Sea Eagles 10th (week 1 finalists)
1997 (SL) Sharks 11th
1998 Bulldogs 5th (semi-finalists)
1999 Dragons 9th
2000 Roosters 6th (week 1 finalists)
2001 Eels 6th (week 1 finalists)
2002 Warriors 6th (preliminary finalists)
2003 Roosters 1st (grand finalists)
2004 Roosters 9th
2005 Cowboys 9th
2006 Storm 1st (premiers)*
2007 Sea Eagles 2nd (premiers)
2008 Storm 1st (premiers)*
2009 Eels 12th
2010 Roosters 11th
2011 Warriors 14th
2012 Bulldogs 6th (week 1 finalists)
2013 Sea Eagles 2nd (semi-finalists)
2014 Bulldogs 5th (semi-finalists)
2015 Broncos 5th (semi-finalists)
2016 Storm 1st (premiers)
2017 Cowboys 13th
2018 Storm 1st (preliminary finalists)
2019 Raiders 5th (preliminary finalists)
2020 Panthers 2nd (premiers)
2021 South Sydney 7th (TBD)

The good news for the eternally Parra-noid Eels fans is that a team in the modern era is much more likely to break a premiership drought when entering a Grand Final for the first time in more than five years.

Parramatta, who hold the unwanted title of the league’s longest dry spell of 36 years and counting, have not featured in the final match of the season since the 23-16 defeat to Melbourne in ‘09.

There have been nine teams since 1998 who have won the title at their first attempt after a GF drought of more than five years: the Storm in 1999 in just their second season, the Panthers in 2003, Dogs ’04, Tigers ’05, Broncos ’06, Dragons ’10, Rabbits ’14, Cowboys ’15 and Sharks in ’16 when they shattered a 49-year wait for silverware. 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 16: Clinton Gutherson of the Eels celebrates with team mates after scoring a try, which was then disallowed by the video bunker during the NRL Semi Final match between the Parramatta Eels and the Canberra Raiders at CommBank Stadium on September 16, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

This current crop of Eels have certainly paid their dues in building up finals battle scars – this is their fifth playoff campaign in the past six seasons under coach Brad Arthur and the closest they’ve come to a Grand Final berth.

“For four years straight now, since Round 1 four years ago, we’ve been in the top eight,” Arthur said at his midweek media conference on Wednesday afternoon. 

“We’re desperate like everyone else to try and win a competition, but so are 16 teams at the start of the year. 

“But I get it. It’s part of the job. There are high expectations but the expectations aren’t any higher from external as they are internal. 

“At the end of the day I’m just a coach. I’ve never said I was the best coach in the game, just a coach trying to do my best.”

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