The NRL’s extraordinary parity dictates that almost every club’s fans can spend the summer legitimately dreaming of a return to the glory days – regardless of how poor 2016 turned out.
Perhaps only Newcastle and St George Illawarra would be deemed no chance of playing finals football next year by experts, while Sydney Roosters – second-last this season – have been the best-backed team by punters to take out the 2017 title.
The CBS Top 5 profiles the greatest 12-month turnarounds in Australian rugby league premiership history – including a worst-to-first effort by the Mapgies and three remarkable revivals by the Roosters.
TOP FIVE 12-MONTH TURNAROUNDS IN AUSTRALIAN RUGBY LEAGUE PREMIERSHIP HISTORY
5. Sydney Roosters – 2009-10
After a top-four finish in 2008, the Roosters endured a horror ’09 campaign, winning just five games and collecting the wooden spoon. Several alcohol-related incidents compounded the club’s woes – one which involved coach Brad Fittler, who was shown the door at the end of the season. But despite losing former rep forwards Craig Fitzgibbon, Mark O’Meley and Willie Mason, the Roosters returned to the finals under incoming coach Brian Smith, landing in sixth spot. Troubled Todd Carney claimed a spectacular Dally M Medal win after being thrown a lifeline by the club, while aggressive Kiwi prop Jared Warea-Hargreaves was another important addition to the roster. The Roosters pipped Wests Tigers in an epic extra-time qualifying final, before thumping Penrith and Gold Coast to become the first team in history to reach a Grand Final a year after coming last. The valiant Tricolours went down 32-8 to St George Illawarra in the decider after leading 8-6 at halftime.
4. Bulldogs – 2008-09
Perennial contenders the Bulldogs slumped to a disastrous wooden spoon season in 2008, exacerbated by Willie Mason’s off-season departure and Sonny Bill Williams’ shock mid-season walkout. Steve Folkes’ 11-season tenure as coach came to an unfortunate close after his side mustered just five wins. Long-serving assistant Kevin Moore took over in 2009, while a recruitment drive that netted Brett Kimmorley, Josh Morris and Broncos quartet Michael Ennis, Ben Hannant, David Stagg and Greg Eastwood paid enormous dividends. Morris, Ennis, Hannant and Stagg won Dally M positional gongs, Moore was named Coach of the Year and Andrew Ryan Captain of the Year after the Bulldogs finished second, with an early-season replacement bungle costing them the minor premiership. The Bulldogs’ outstanding campaign finished courtesy of a 22-12 loss to Parramatta in a classic preliminary final.
3. Western Suburbs – 1933-34
Wests remain the only team in premiership history to win the competition a year after finishing last. The Magpies’ 1933 campaign fell apart following the Kangaroos’ mid-season departure, robbing the club of the services of Frank McMillan, Vic Hey, Les Mead, Alan Ridley and Cliff Pearce. They lost their last eight games to end up with the wooden spoon in the eight-team premiership. But with their stars back on deck in 1934, Wests rallied to win the club’s second title, defeating Easts in a playoff for the minor premiership and again in a tight final.
2. Sydney Roosters – 2012-13
The Roosters’ promising start to 2012 quickly came unstuck, winning just four games in the last 20 rounds to wind up in 13th spot. Veteran coach Brian Smith was dumped at the end of the dismal campaign. But under rookie mentor Trent Robinson, and with high-profile recruits Sonny Bill Williams, James Maloney and Michael Jennings each enjoying career-best seasons, the Tricolours claimed the minor premiership and surged to a stunning Grand Final triumph. The Roosters held their opponents scoreless a record six times, while they also developed into the NRL’s slickest attacking unit. No team in premiership history has come from further down the ladder to win the following season’s title.
1. Eastern Suburbs – 1966-67
Despite collecting two of the previous three wooden spoons, nothing could have prepared Easts for their disastrous 1966 campaign. The club lost all 18 of their regular season matches – the last time a first grade club has gone through a year winless. But the arrival of untried coach Jack Gibson turned Easts’ fortunes around dramatically in ’67. The season started in familiar fashion with only four losses and a draw to show from the opening five rounds, but Gibson guided his charges to 13 wins and another draw in their remaining 17 games to secure fourth spot. Making their first finals appearance in seven years, the Tricolours were eliminated 13-2 by Canterbury in the minor semi.