Pretenders, Contenders and Winners: The NRL Finals.


The NRL finals start this week.

If you’re a supporter of one of the teams you’re still hoping that they can be the ones holding the trophy on the last day of the season.

But here at the Sportress, we speak truth. So here we have our comprehensive guide to the finals, replete with pretenders, contenders and the winners.

A note: A few weeks ago we debuted a new statistic to provide a bit of evidence that the Raiders had been supremely unlucky this season: Pythagorean expectation. Borrowed from Major League Baseball (and later the National Football League), it helps us quantify just how many wins a teams for and against should equate to. We’ve used it here again because it’s fun and gives us a reason to hate the Roosters, just a little bit more. Not that we needed it.

The pretenders

Cronulla Sharks

Table position: 6th (14 wins)

Pythagorean expectation position: 9th (11.8 wins)

The Sharks have been an old fashioned Rugby League™ team this year. Led by the indefatigable Paul Gallen, they’re strength is definitely has been up the middle. They’ve relied on Michael Ennis to be creative in the middle of the park and Gordon and Holmes to be dynamic on the edges (and holy shit hasn’t Holmes been amazing). Combined with an unusually high possession percentage (52.1 per cent over the season) it’s been enough to squeak out wins all year – in a 24 game season the Sharks somehow managed to outperform their expectation by over two wins. But if everything had gone to plan for other teams *cough* Raiders *cough* they wouldn’t have even made the 8. The only reason they might get through the first week is because they play….

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Table Position:  7th (13 wins)

Pythagorean expectation position: 8th (11.9 wins)

It’s been and up and down year for the Bunnies, and there aren’t many bright spots in the recent form of the Bunnies. It’s hard to understand why a team blessed with the talent they have has performed so poorly recently. The last game they weren’t ordinary in was their round 23 defeat of the Cowboys.

This is a problem for Souths fans.
This is a problem for Souths fans.

They’ve won an uninspiring 4 from their last 8, losing to the Broncos, Bulldogs and Roosters. You know, teams they might need to beat. They’ll have Inglis and his swollen knee back this week but will be without George Burgess because of his hissy fit.

St George Illawarra

Table Position: 8th (12 wins)

Pythagorean expectation position: 6th (12.9 wins)

I wouldn’t get too excited if I was you either Dragon’s fans. The Dragons are last in the NRL in line breaks and tries. Last. In the whole comp. As in the Knights had more tries and line breaks than the Dragons. And that’s before you realise they’ll be without Gareth Widdop. They got this far on the back of their defence and it will have to be impressive to keep out the league’s 5th best offence. Here’s saying they don’t.

Middle of the pack

Canterbury Bulldogs

Table Position: 5th (14 wins)

Pythagorean expectation position: 5th (13.1 wins)

An superb attacking side that has dominated in the middle of the park, thanks to the work of their massive forward pack, and the surprisingly skilled work out of Brett Morris at fullback. I’d always considered him a great defender and an excellent finisher. This year he’s shown that the freedom to involve himself around the ruck has unleashed a creativity and dynamism previously unseen. The Dogs will likely have a tough matchup with the Storm in the second week. We don’t think they’ll get through that.

The Contenders

North Queensland Cowboys

Table Postion: 3rd (17 wins)

Pythagorean expectation: 4th (15.5 wins).

We truly love Jonathon Thurston. The man is a genius and is on the two-man shortlist with Cam Smith for best player of his generation. He leads the NRL In try assists by a long way with 28 (the next best, Benji Marshall has 22).  The Cowboys get Michael Morgan back this week to take some of the strain of Thurston.

This guy = amazing
This guy = amazing

But we really must offer a word of caution. The Cowboys should be in the ‘middle of the pack’ section. They’ve outperformed they Pythagorean expectation by over 1.5 wins on the back of 53 per cent of the ball and frankly have won some games this year they just plain shouldn’t have.

*Raiders and Eels fans quietly nod while a single tear falls into their beers*

We want them to win. We want them to win for Townsville. We want them to beat the Roosters. We want them to win for JT’s legacy. I just don’t think they will.

Melbourne Storm

Table Position: 4th (14 wins)

Pythagorean Expectation 3rd (16.0 wins)

No one likes the Storm (except me) because they are good, have been good for ages, and as long as Cam Smith and Cooper Cronk are around aren’t going to be bad. They’ve got the best defence in the competition (outside the Roosters) and have managed to integrate Cameron Munster into the Billy Slater role exceptionally well. Bromwich is a star and they’ve got key performers across the park. They’ve got a real opportunity this week with the Roosters missing Mitchel Pearce in a battle most people wish everyone could lose. They will be there on preliminary weekend.

Brisbane Broncos

Table position: 2nd (17 wins)

Pythagorean expectation 2nd (17.5 wins)

Here’s a pro-tip. I never expected the Broncos to be very good this season. But here we are. Hunt is the field general, and his excellence is what allows Milford to improvise. Milford has done what all Raiders fans feared he would do, which is work out how to play as a half. No team has scored more tries this season than the Broncos, and they have the 3rd best defence in points scored. They are definitely a contender, but if they make it to the last day of the season, I can’t see them beating….

The Winners

Sydney Roosters

Table position: 1st (18 wins)

Pythagorean expectation: 1st (20 wins)

Look. They’re really good.

Sigh. I mean, they are amazing, but...sigh...
Sigh. I mean, they are amazing, but…sigh…

They came first and somehow underperformed their expected win total. They’ve got far and away the best defence in the comp – they only let in 12.5 points per game this year, while leading the competition points scored, line breaks and coming 3rd in tries scored. They had 755 tackle breaks this year. The next best side had 686 (the Bunnies). The Storm (530), the Broncos (531) and the Cowboys (656) weren’t close. They have one of the league leaders in try assists (Maloney) and the leader in all-run metres (Tuivasa-Sheck). They will miss Pearce this week, but even if they don’t get past the Storm, they’ll punish the Dogs the week after.

I hate the Roosters and am praying for a miracle, but they’re going to win the competition this year.



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