Can the Roosters Go Back to Back to Back?

Can the Roosters Go Back to Back to Back?

Despite coming into the 2020 season following back-to-back premiership wins, the Sydney Roosters are in a little bit of a hole.

They’re winless after two rounds following defeats to the Penrith Panthers and Manly Sea Eagles to open the season. After looking as though they would begin 2020 where they left off in 2019 for the first 20 minutes in Round 1, they limped through the next 140 minutes.

It’s not too much of a surprise, though. 

Back-to-back premiers have become fairly rare in rugby league. The Roosters are the first in the NRL era to achieve the feat. But those that have previously claimed two premierships in a row have struggled to start the third season. 

The Brisbane Broncos – the last back-to-back premiers – didn’t win their first match of the 1999 NRL season until Round 5 after winning in 1998 and 1997 (Super League). It was much the same in 1994 when the Broncos needed until Round 4 to record a win after lifting the trophy in 1992 and 1993. The Canberra Raiders won just two of their first five games in 1991 following premierships in 1989 and 1990.

Seeing the Roosters come out a little flat isn’t enough to announce an end to their dynasty. 

It is, however, more of an issue in 2020 than it otherwise would have been in previous years.

Up against Wayne Bennett and the South Sydney Rabbitohs in Round 3 before playing a hot Brisbane Broncos side in Round 4, the Roosters don’t have time to ease into the season as they had planned. Historically, they’re already behind the average NRL premier when it comes to winning their first game of the season. 

The Roosters aren’t in must-win territory when they face the Rabbitohs in Round 3, but history isn’t on their side if they dropped a third on the bounce.

It has taken an average of 1.77 matches for eventual premiers to win their first game of the season throughout the NRL era. Only two premiership-winning teams have needed three games to register their first win of the season – the 2003 Panthers, 2008 Sea Eagles and 2015 Cowboys. Of those three, only the Cowboys needed a fourth crack.

YearWinnerFirst Win (Round)YearWinnerFirst Win (Round)
1998Broncos12009Storm*1
1999Storm12010Dragons1
2000Broncos22011Manly2
2001Knights22012Storm1
2002Roosters12013Roosters2
2003Panthers32014Rabbitohs1
2004Bulldogs12015Cowboys4
2005Tigers22016Sharks2
2006Broncos22017Storm1
2007Storm*12018Roosters2
2008Manly32019Roosters2

The pressure is on the Roosters to arrest the slide in Round 3. However, it’s the 2015 Cowboys that will also fill them with confidence should they lose a third game in a row.

The Cowboys lost their first three games in 2015 before winning 11 on the bounce and 15 of 16 games. They made up for their slow start during the middling rounds top teams usually drop games due to losing players to State of Origin. With Origin now planned for November, the Roosters don’t need to worry about losing Boyd Cordner, James Tedesco and possibly Luke Keary among others. They will have their full complement of players to dig themselves out of an 0-3 hole should they end up there. 

How do they avoid digging deeper to start with? Clean up the errors.

The Roosters have always played a high-risk style. They’ve made the most handling errors of all 16 teams since Trent Robinson arrived in 2013 while winning three premierships in that time. The Parramatta Eels, meanwhile, have won two wooden spoons in the same period averaging 0.3 fewer handling errors per game.

Throwing the ball around is part of the game plan and has been a significant factor in their success. However, the 15 errors the Roosters have made in each of the first two rounds is too many. Teams making 15 or more errors since 2013 have won just 32.5% of the time. 

With a slight reduction in errors – they averaged 11.5 in 2019 – the Roosters can return to employing their high-powered attack that thrives through the middle and excels in support play. It’s also crucial for Kyle Flanagan getting comfortable in the side as the new halfback moving forward.

The Roosters aren’t in must-win territory when they face the Rabbitohs in Round 3, but history isn’t on their side if they dropped a third on the bounce.

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