Upsets blow NRL finals race wide open

The stage is set for the biggest premiership shock in NRL history, following the unprecedented downfall of the Sydney Roosters and Manly in week one of the finals.

For the first time in NRL history, the top two teams both suffered defeats in the first weekend of the playoffs, the twin boilovers opening up the playing field like never before.

Not only are Penrith well positioned to better their fairytale grand final triumph from 2003, but North Queensland and Canterbury have firmed in betting to become the first team in almost two decades to claim the title from outside the top four.

It shapes as the year of the underdog.

The Panthers’ epic upset over the Roosters on Saturday night has at the very least made life difficult for the defending premiers from Bondi Junction to become the only team to go back-to-back since Brisbane in the 1990s.

Losing in week one of the finals and recovering to still take out the competition has only happened on three occasions since the NRL’s inception, with the Broncos the last side to do it in 2006 when they bounced back from losing to St George Illawarra to beat Melbourne in the decider.

The Roosters must now get past the fifth-placed Cowboys on Friday night and then highly-fancied South Sydney in a preliminary final before they even think about defending their crown.

It’s a hard road needing to play all four weeks of the finals and come away with the trophy, which is why finishing top two at the end of the regular season is such an advantage.

However, the Roosters and Sea Eagles surrendered that benefit at the weekend.

After being demolished by Souths, Manly will do it tough to survive with a depleted and allegedly warring line-up.

But the Panthers’ upset has worked in the Sea Eagles’ favour.

They find themselves on the weaker side of the draw, with sudden-death assignments against seventh-placed Canterbury on Saturday night and then fourth-placed Penrith in the preliminary final, presenting a testing but far from daunting road to the grand final.

The closest the NRL has had to both heavyweights stumbling in week one was back in 1998 when first-placed Brisbane and second-placed Newcastle both lost in week two of the finals having had the first round off under an old format.

Wayne Bennett’s Broncos recovered to win the premiership, with the Knights not going close to qualifying.

The fact ninth-placed Canterbury (in a 10-team finals format) were Brisbane’s grand final opponents that year shows how much major upsets can blow open the field.

Another fascinating statistic is the fact Melbourne in 1999 are the only team to have lost to a side in round one of the playoffs – St George Illawarra – and then turned the tables three weeks later to defeat that same opposition for the premiership.

However, if the Roosters can beat North Queensland on Friday, the odds of the premiers going up against the Panthers again in the big dance will dramatically shorten.

But the most significant upshot of Panthers’ dethroning of the Roosters, is the hope it’s given to the less-fancied teams.

Not since the Bulldogs came from sixth in 1995 have a team outside a top four won the premiership.


*Last team to win grand final from outside top four – Canterbury (sixth) in 1995

*First time top two teams have lost week one of the NRL finals.

*Brisbane in 2006 last team to lose week one of finals and bounce back to win premiership

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