IT’S always been the conventional wisdom that a side has to take momentum into the finals to win the premiership – but is it essential?
A look at recent history says no. Melbourne won 10 straight games, including the grand final, to claim the 2017 flag but a look at the years previous suggests it far from typical.
Mid to late season slumps are often enough for punters to write off teams as title contenders. It’s been the case for the Dragons this year, though those who dismiss them are backed by history.
2016 premiers Cronulla had a draw and four losses in their final eight games, including a 26-6 final-round defeat to Melbourne. They got touched up by the Dragons three weeks before that but a measured Shane Flanagan wasn’t concerned.
“It is not panic stations,’’ Flanagan said in the aftermath.
“Some things just aren't working for us like they were earlier in the year but we'll keep working hard. Good teams sometimes fall out of form but they find it again.”
You can go right back to 2006 to first see the emergence of this trend. Broncos coach Wayne Bennett was tired of sides starting strongly and fading post-Origin and limping into the finals.
The Broncos were one of the last teams to return for preseason training and didn’t taper until the week before the start of the season. The Broncos produced a solid start but looked exhausted by mid-season.
They won just two of nine games, including five straight through the middle stretch. Little did we all know, the Broncos were doing very little on the training park as Bennett sought freshen them up to peak at the back end.
They lost their opening finals game to the Dragons before winning three straight to claim the crown. Plenty of sides followed the trend over the ensuing decade.
In 2015 the Cowboys went 2-3 over the finals rounds of the competition and lost their first final to the Broncos before ultimately beating them in the decider.
The Rabbitohs lost two of their last three en route to the 2014 finals. The Roosters did the same a year earlier.
In 2012 Melbourne won just two of nine games through the middle part of the year, including five straight losses, before steadying to win the comp with eight straight wins.
The point? No side can hold top form all the way through a season, the NRL competition is too demanding. Form and confidence dips are inevitable.
A look at all contenders this season shows those same ebbs and flows in form. The art is in timing them to your advantage. That’s what all coaches still in this year’s race will be aiming to do.