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Comeback comparison: Manly destined for greatest NRL finals run in 108 years

Information verified correct on December 6th, 2016

The National Rugby League (NRL) has not been short of talking points in 2015, and much of it has centred on the turmoil at the Manly Sea Eagles. However, the perennial finalists from the Northern Beaches could end the year by setting a startling record.

We’ve crunched the numbers – all the way back to 1908. We’ve identified every single team that has at some point in a season been in the wooden spoon position and gone on to make the finals. We’ve then plotted that data against Manly’s 2015 climb from the competition cellar to see how it compares.

Rugby League’s history is dotted with remarkable comebacks, but if Manly achieves its target and reaches the 30-point ceiling experts predict will be the cut-off for this year’s final series, it will stand as the greatest comeback in the history of the sport.

Key findings
  • If Manly wins its remaining games and reach the finals, it will have won 90% of its matches since being in the wooden spoon position, the highest percentage in comeback history.
  • It will also have reached the finals after being set the highest required win percentage in Rugby League history, also at 90%.
  • If Manly improves its for-and-against by a further 56 points in the remaining three fixtures, it will have reached the finals by having the best average for-and-against growth per round during its finals push.
  • Manly will match the record set by Newcastle in 1909 for climbing the most amount of positions up the table in the least amount of time. Moving 0.8 places up the table with each round from being wooden spoon to the finals.
  • It will be the latest run in Australian Rugby League history, with only 38% of the season remaining while the team sat in the wooden spoon position.
  • Manly’s “Comeback Index” of 0.72 will be the highest of all time. The Comeback Index is calculated as the number of positions between being wooden spoon and reaching the finals, divided by the number of rounds still available in the season, multiplied by the required win percentage to reach the minimum number of finals cut-off points.
  • In 2002, Canberra became the only team in Australian League history to rise from wooden spoon to a finals spot with a negative points differential.
  • Canberra and St George are the comeback kings, having four times gone from last to a finals spot in a season. If Manly succeed this year, it will be the third time, equal with Souths.
  • Only 31 times in 108 seasons has a team been in the wooden spoon spot at some point during the season and then made the finals – or 29%. However, that drops to just 15 times, or 14%, if you ignore teams in the wooden spoon position before round 4.
  • The frequency of teams starting poorly and bouncing back to be in the finals has dramatically increased since 1990, when the salary cap was introduced. Of the 31 comebacks in premiership history, 10 (or 32%) have occurred in the last 18-years (or 17% of the sport’s lifetime).

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The 10 best comebacks in Australian rugby league history
YearTeamComeback Index
2015Manly0.72*
1909Newcastle0.64
1999Brisbane0.57
1961Balmain0.48
1989Canberra0.39
1988Manly0.37
1967Easts0.37
1932Balmain0.32
1997Canberra0.31
1953Souths0.31

*Remains a What If

Teams that won the premiership after being wooden spoon at some point during the season
  • Newtown - 1933
  • Souths - 1953
  • Souths - 1955
  • St George - 1962
  • Canberra - 1989
  • Penrith - 2002
Teams that reached the grand final after being wooden spoon at some point during the season, but lost.
  • St George – 1930
  • Canterbury – 1940
  • Wests – 1950
Yr Team # of Rnds Run Start % of
Season Left 
Final Position Actual
Win % 
Comp
Pts
Earned 
Minimum
Required
Pts
Required
Win % 
For/
Against Change 
Point
Change /Game 
Teams
Outside
Finals Spot
Ladder
Climb / Round 
The
Comeback Index 
2015Manly261638%890%181890%989.8080.800.72
1909Newcastle10550%380%8880%7715.4040.800.64
1999Brisbane261254%889%252589%20514.6490.640.57
1961Balmain18856%480%161680%868.6060.600.48
1989Canberra22291%470%282870%20310.15110.550.39
1988Manly22195%471%303071%22510.71110.520.37
1967Easts22577%579%272779%784.5980.470.37
1932Balmain14564%472%131372%384.2240.440.32
1997Canberra18667%383%201875%16313.5850.420.31
1950Wests18383%473%222273%855.6760.400.29
1953Souths18478%175%211968%1319.3660.430.29
1933Newtown14471%190%181470%888.8040.400.28
1930St George14471%470%141470%444.4040.400.28
1942Easts14379%473%161673%302.7340.360.26
2013Canberra26677%670%282665%1356.7580.400.26
1955Souths18289%469%222269%1388.6360.380.26
1954St George18289%372%232269%764.7560.380.26
1939Canterbury14286%383%201875%1109.1740.330.25
2009Manly26485%573%322966%1305.9180.360.24
1987Souths26388%567%313167%924.0080.350.23
1957Souths18289%369%222063%885.5060.380.23
1940Canterbury14379%464%141464%232.0940.360.23
1963Parramatta18194%465%222265%704.1260.350.23
1979Parramatta22291%280%322665%20910.4570.350.23
2002Canberra26773%861%232361%-53-2.7970.370.22
1927Easts18289%469%222269%211.3150.310.21
1962St George18194%179%272059%18711.0060.350.21
2005St George Illawara26485%282%362864%22710.3270.320.20
2012North Queensland26196%568%342856%1706.8080.320.18
2003Penrith26292%183%402858%1626.7570.290.17
2000Melbourne26485%666%292659%1958.8660.270.16

Chris Stead

Chris Stead is an award winning content creation and design specialist that dabbles in all subjects, but is best known for his work in technology, entertainment and gaming. When not writing, he can be found among the waves of the Northern Beaches.

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