Here at the Sportress we’ve spent Grand Final week breaking down some of the cliches and narratives that invariably accompany all football codes throughout their respective seasons.
One of these is that old chestnut “You have to lose a Grand Final before you can win one”. It’s the kind of filler rolled out by generic journos who aren’t informed enough to make decisive, factual statements on the sport they’re supposed to be covering.
In the modern NRL (1998 to now) it is almost completely untrue.
Infact the only side that has had to learn the hard way, in the modern competition, is Manly.
At this point I should quantify that this only applies to consecutive shots at a premiership – anyone can lose one and then win two years later.
In 2007 the Sea-Eagles were grounded by a high flying (and cheating!) Melbourne Storm side, which at that point in time still contained the Big 4 of Smith, Cronk, Inglis & Slater. The game finished with a lopsided score of 34-8.
Exactly one year later Manly enacted their revenge. After an arm wrestle first half that earned Manly 8 points the Sea-Eagles released the hand brake and ripped the hapless (and still cheating!) Storm outfit to shreds. Manly didn’t just avenge themselves of the proceeding grand finals miserable blow-out; they inflicted the worst kind of embarrassment to a grand final opponent since 1978 (Manly v Cronulla 16-0). To make things worse for Melbourne it was also the biggest winning margin in a grand final, surpassing 1975 (Roosters v Dragons 38-0).
But apart from that, a premiership via the long way round is a most rare and infrequent beast in modern rugby league.
Before 1998 it’s a somewhat different tale.
Manly had a loss/win/loss run of appearances across the 3 years of the ARL (1995-97).
The Bulldogs lost the last premiership of the NSWRL (RAIDERS!) in 1994 before taking the crown in year one of the ARL in 1995.
Before the Bulldogs did it, it was the Panthers going down to the Raiders in 1990, only to redeem themselves in 1991.
One must then travel further back to the vintage of 1979/80, where the Bulldogs went down against the Dragons before managing to defeat the Roosters the following season.
Back in the modern era the idea of a premiership earned over consecutive attempts is pretty much done for. The only thing rarer is that famed beast known as Back-to-Back Titles.
Back-to-back premierships are what make a footy side truly great. The last side to accomplish this were the Brisbane Broncos of 1992/93. Before them the Canberra Raiders in 1989/90. The Bulldogs in ’84/85. The Eels with a trifecta in ’81/82/83.
What do they all have in common? They all happened in the semi-pro NSWRL. Players still had day jobs, and were basically normal men with really good rugby league skills.
In the modern tempest that is the NRL it is almost impossible to keep all the plates spinning. Injuries, rep games, scandals and mid year signings all conspire to derail a teams shot at making it two in a row.
The Cowboys of 2016 are a prime example of this – although they bowed out against the Sharks their campaign truly ended against the Broncos.
Tired and sore after a gruelling 90 minute smash-fest in tropical heat, they must’ve known that the chance of doing the impossible was, by then, already out of reach.
This is not saying that back-to-back titles are impossible in the modern era – they just need all the stars to align. Twice.
A Premiership. At the end of the day (or career) it’s all a player really wants. Anyone can get a test jumper. Lots of players can boast of State of Origin glory (especially Queenslanders).
But for most players that ring and its companion medal are something they may never see.
Some players are lucky, and have multiple copies of each. Sometimes they earn them with one club. Sometimes they bounce between clubs, picking up silverware as they go.
Sometimes the club has no trophies.
The Cronulla Sharks are easily the longest suffering side in these terms. A premiership conveys legitimacy and worth – it weaves your side into the tapestry of the competitions history.
Some clubs, like the Raiders or the Storm secured their 1st premiership inside a decade. Other sides, like the Cowboys took nearly 20 years to get there.
Some sides, like the Warriors and Titans, are still in waiting. For them, there’s still plenty of time.
The Sharks have been waiting since 1967. 49 years. For anyone other than a geologist that’s a hell of a long time.
Opposing fans know it. Even when the Sharks are flogging another side, the losing fans will cheerily remind them of their grand total of premierships.
0. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
For most non Storm/Sharks fans this weekends game can be summarised thus – “whoever wins, we all lose”.
Neither side are beloved outside of their fanbase, but I feel that subconsciously almost everyone will be quietly, internally, cheering for a Sharks maiden premiership.