For decades we’ve all been told not to get too excited about whichever teams are leading the field at the halfway point of the season, because there are no trophies for a mid-season premier.
But such a nonchalant viewpoint is essentially foolish. Teams don’t fluke their way to the top of the ladder. Good football gets them there.
So with the 2016 NRL season now starting its second half, this article will be taking the opportunity to look through the historical data and seeing if the ‘mid-season premiers’ really are indicative of nothing more than temporary bragging rights, as the adage suggests.
Since 1908, there have been 109 premiers, including two in 1997 due to the Super League war. The system used to determine each year’s champions has changed several times of the code’s entire history, however since 1938 a regular finals system comprising of at least four clubs has been in use.
On 53 occasions, the team who led the competition at the halfway mark of the season has gone on to become win the competition. A further 19 seasons have seen the halfway leader reach the premiership decider, only to fall short.
So essentially, the team leading at the halfway point has a 66.06% chance of reaching the Grand Final and a 48.62% chance of winning the comp.
— Sunday Footy Show (@SundayFootyShow) June 12, 2016
Another 32 occasions has seen the halfway leader reach the finals but fail to qualify for the decider. There have been three times when the halfway leader finished in the top four, but because no finals system was in place, did not advance further or play in the finals. They were Souths (1911) who finished third, Balmain (1918) who finished fourth and Eastern Suburbs (1921) who finished second.
There have been just two occasions where the halfway leader has ended the season lower than fourth and not participated in the finals. Eastern Suburbs ledd the comp after Round 11 in 1992, but finished the season in sixth place, just missing the finals, which were played by the top five sides then.
The other was in unique circumstances, when runaway leaders the Bulldogs were stripped of their points late in the 2002 season which saw them finish last. If they hadn’t been stripped of their points, they would’ve finished the season as minor premiers.
Only once has a premier come from lower than eighth position at the halfway point of the season: the 2005 Wests Tigers, who were 11th at the halfway mark.
Interestingly enough, the premiers were sitting in first halfway through the season on 53 occasions (48.62%), while they were second on 26 times (23.85%), which means the eventual premier was sitting in the top two spots at halfway 72.48% of the time.
History tells us that the mid-season premiers are a 95.41% chance of playing in the finals. The data also shows that there have been no premiers placed ninth, 10th or 12th or below on the ladder at the halfway point, and that the team leading halfway through the season has finished in the top six on all bar one occasion, which was as a result of the ’02 Bulldogs’ salary cap scandal.
Perhaps it’s time that the mid-season premier is given a lot more respect.