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

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.

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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).

The 10 best comebacks in Australian rugby league history

Year Team Comeback Index
2015 Manly 0.72*
1909 Newcastle 0.64
1999 Brisbane 0.57
1961 Balmain 0.48
1989 Canberra 0.39
1988 Manly 0.37
1967 Easts 0.37
1932 Balmain 0.32
1997 Canberra 0.31
1953 Souths 0.31

*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
2015 Manly 26 16 0.38 8 0.9 18 18 0.9 98 9.8 8 0.8 0.72
1909 Newcastle 10 5 0.5 3 0.8 8 8 0.8 77 15.4 4 0.8 0.64
1999 Brisbane 26 12 0.54 8 0.89 25 25 0.89 205 14.64 9 0.64 0.57
1961 Balmain 18 8 0.56 4 0.8 16 16 0.8 86 8.6 6 0.6 0.48
1989 Canberra 22 2 0.91 4 0.7 28 28 0.7 203 10.15 11 0.55 0.39
1988 Manly 22 1 0.95 4 0.71 30 30 0.71 225 10.71 11 0.52 0.37
1967 Easts 22 5 0.77 5 0.79 27 27 0.79 78 4.59 8 0.47 0.37
1932 Balmain 14 5 0.64 4 0.72 13 13 0.72 38 4.22 4 0.44 0.32
1997 Canberra 18 6 0.67 3 0.83 20 18 0.75 163 13.58 5 0.42 0.31
1950 Wests 18 3 0.83 4 0.73 22 22 0.73 85 5.67 6 0.4 0.29
1953 Souths 18 4 0.78 1 0.75 21 19 0.68 131 9.36 6 0.43 0.29
1933 Newtown 14 4 0.71 1 0.9 18 14 0.7 88 8.8 4 0.4 0.28
1930 St George 14 4 0.71 4 0.7 14 14 0.7 44 4.4 4 0.4 0.28
1942 Easts 14 3 0.79 4 0.73 16 16 0.73 30 2.73 4 0.36 0.26
2013 Canberra 26 6 0.77 6 0.7 28 26 0.65 135 6.75 8 0.4 0.26
1955 Souths 18 2 0.89 4 0.69 22 22 0.69 138 8.63 6 0.38 0.26
1954 St George 18 2 0.89 3 0.72 23 22 0.69 76 4.75 6 0.38 0.26
1939 Canterbury 14 2 0.86 3 0.83 20 18 0.75 110 9.17 4 0.33 0.25
2009 Manly 26 4 0.85 5 0.73 32 29 0.66 130 5.91 8 0.36 0.24
1987 Souths 26 3 0.88 5 0.67 31 31 0.67 92 4 8 0.35 0.23
1957 Souths 18 2 0.89 3 0.69 22 20 0.63 88 5.5 6 0.38 0.23
1940 Canterbury 14 3 0.79 4 0.64 14 14 0.64 23 2.09 4 0.36 0.23
1963 Parramatta 18 1 0.94 4 0.65 22 22 0.65 70 4.12 6 0.35 0.23
1979 Parramatta 22 2 0.91 2 0.8 32 26 0.65 209 10.45 7 0.35 0.23
2002 Canberra 26 7 0.73 8 0.61 23 23 0.61 -53 -2.79 7 0.37 0.22
1927 Easts 18 2 0.89 4 0.69 22 22 0.69 21 1.31 5 0.31 0.21
1962 St George 18 1 0.94 1 0.79 27 20 0.59 187 11 6 0.35 0.21
2005 St George Illawara 26 4 0.85 2 0.82 36 28 0.64 227 10.32 7 0.32 0.2
2012 North Queensland 26 1 0.96 5 0.68 34 28 0.56 170 6.8 8 0.32 0.18
2003 Penrith 26 2 0.92 1 0.83 40 28 0.58 162 6.75 7 0.29 0.17
2000 Melbourne 26 4 0.85 6 0.66 29 26 0.59 195 8.86 6 0.27 0.16

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