An updated complete history of the NRL (2019 edition)
Updated on the back of last year’s successful use of graphs to convey the historical progress of NRL clubs, this year’s complete history now includes the stats and Eratosthenes movements from the 2018 season for each club.
- Brisbane Broncos
- Canberra Raiders
- Canterbury Bulldogs
- Cronulla Sharks
- Gold Coast Titans
- Manly Sea Eagles
- Melbourne Storm
- Newcastle Knights
- New Zealand Warriors
- North Queensland Cowboys
- Parramatta Eels
- Penrith Panthers
- South Sydney Rabbitohs
- St George Illawarra Dragons
- Sydney Roosters
- Wests Tigers
- The Departed
- Derby/rivalry records
Gold Coast Titans
Manly Sea Eagles
New Zealand Warriors
North Queensland Cowboys
South Sydney Rabbitohs
St George Illawarra Dragons
If you’re just getting into the NRL, you may notice that the sporting landscape is littered with derbies and rivalries. This is especially true in Sydney, whose Byzantine tribal conflicts are difficult to penetrate for an outsider because they are generally an artifact from at least sixty years earlier and have something to do with arcane changes to district boundaries. Note I may have had to make up some names.
Queensland Derby: Broncos v Cowboys
The Queensland Derby is easily the only rivalry that matters in club rugby league anymore. Forget Hull and forget Souths and Easts. This is the real deal or at least it has been since the Cowboys learned to ball circa 2005. The regular season attendance for this matchup averages over 30,000 and attracts over 45,000 to the editions played at Suncorp.
From 46 meetings, Brisbane have 29 victories, North Queensland 16 and one draw. The two have met in six finals games, with North Queensland winning five, including the 2015 grand final, the Cowboys’ first premiership. From the 2015 grand final to round 2 of 2017, the two played six games, of which four were decided by a single point. A game hasn’t been decided by more than 12 or more points since 2015.
ANZAC Day clashes: Dragons v Roosters and Storm v Warriors
Playing matches on ANZAC Day is a relatively new tradition, with the Dragons and Roosters first meeting on April 25 in 2002 with the Storm and Warriors following in 2009.
St George Illawarra and Sydney have met 39 times in the NRL, with the Dragons winning 20 and the Roosters 18 with one draw. The Dragons are 2-0 over the Roosters in finals matches, including the 2010 grand final which brought the merged club their first premiership.
Melbourne and New Zealand (incl Auckland) have played 42 matches. The Warriors have won 16, the Storm won 24 and there were two draws. The Warriors have won both of their finals rendezvous in 2003 and 2008. The Warriors haven’t won this matchup since 2015.
Easter Monday clash: Eels v Tigers
The other Western Sydney derby has been held on Easter Monday since 2014 to satisfyingly large crowds, big enough to justify playing at ANZ. The two will share a stadium from 2019 onward, with Bankwest Stadium becoming one of the eleven Tigers’ home grounds.
The two teams have played 37 times in the NRL, resulting in 15 wins for the Tigers and 21 for the Eels with a single draw. Wests and Parramatta have never met in the finals.
Mother’s Day clash: Broncos v Sea Eagles
This rivalry began in 1988 with the Broncos’ first ever game whereupon they smashed the defending premiers. Since then, the Broncos and Sea Eagles have a 23-23 record against each other. More recently, Manly have cunningly observed that no one wants to watch them play and they will draw a bigger crowd in Brisbane, a city that is famous for not being in Sydney. The Manly “home” game at Suncorp has been held around the Mother’s Day weekend since 2016.
The Broncos have faced the Sea Eagles 28 times (excluding the Northern Eagles stint). Manly have 15 wins, Brisbane 12 and a draw. Their only finals clash was won by Manly in 2011.
The Old Firm: Rabbitohs v Roosters
Supposedly the biggest rivalry in rugby league (see Queensland Derby above), this clash of traditional geographical rivals dates back to 1908. In the NRL era, the regular season editions have averaged over 21,000 in attendance, which is pretty good for Sydney.
The two have played 38 times in the NRL era. The Roosters have the upper hand with 26 victories to Souths’ 12. The two have only played finals twice, with Souths winning the preliminary final in 2014 on their way to a premiership and Sydney winning the preliminary final in 2018 on their way to a premiership.
Western Sydney derby: Eels v Panthers
Parramatta and Penrith are located at the left hand side of Sydney, which is as good a reason as any to hate each other.
Penrith and Parramatta have met 38 times and split the results evenly. Their only finals contest was back in 2000, with the Eels coming up trumps that day. Penrith have won six of the last ten contests.
The 1947 Cup: Eels v Sea Eagles
Both Parramatta and Manly were admitted to the NSWRL premiership in 1947. They played out grand finals in 1976, 1982 and 1983, with Manly winning the first and Parramatta the second and third. The rivalry today seems to be based on who can be just the worst, both on and off the field.
Grand finals appearances have been thinner on the ground in the NRL era. 33 matches have yielded 18 wins for the Eels and 15 for the Sea Eagles. A qualifying final in 2005 was their only finals meeting, with Parramatta winning 48-22.
South-East Queensland Derby or Lesser Queensland Derby: Broncos v Titans
It’s been over a decade since the Titans entered the NRL and it’s still not clear if anyone cares. Back to back preliminary finals in 2009 and 2010 were followed with a wooden spoon in 2011, near bankruptcy and a general sense of apathy from the burghers of the south-east Queensland conurbation. Nonetheless, it’s the law that geographically proximate clubs must have a derby.
In their 25 meetings, the Broncos have won 19 and the Titans 6. The Gold Coast are yet to win two matches against the Broncos in the same calendar year. Their two finals appearances against each other both resulted in high scoring affairs in 2009 and 2016 but both were ultimately Broncos victories.
The Mudgee Firm: Dragons v Rabbitohs
The Charity Shield, a pre-season match between the two inner southern Sydney rivals, has been held since 1982 but moved to Mudgee for the 2018 edition.
Since Illawarra and St George merged for the 1999 season, the Rabbitohs and Dragons have played 31 games. The Dragons have 17, Souths 14. They played their first finals clash out in 2018, with Souths triumphing.
“Is it seriously a rivalry if everyone hates Parramatta?” Derby: Bulldogs v Eels
Other than a general western Sydney vibe, I don’t know or care why these two are rivals but it could well be in the same vein as the 1947 Cup. I’m assuming it has something to do with football in the 80s.
41 contests of this rivalry have been played with the Dogs just edging the Eels 21-19-1. The two have met occasionally in the finals, duking out prelims in 1998 and 2009 and a semi in 2007. The Eels won the latter two. Parramatta have won six of the last ten meetings.
“You Took Our Juniors” Derby: Dragons v Sharks
Cronulla was granted admission to the premiership in 1967, at the end of a long period of dominance by their neighbours, St George. In theory, this was to steal away some of the Dragons’ lands and associated talent, thereby hamstringing St George and preventing their domination of the league. This became a moot point when district football and the NSWRL’s transfer system fell apart in the early 1970s.
The rivals have played out 42 games since the Dragons’ merger. Cronulla has won 19, St George Illawarra 22 with a single draw. The Sharks and Dragons have met three times in NRL finals, with the Dragons victorious in 1999 and 2005 and the Sharks winning in 2002.
The other, other Queensland Derby that no one cares about: Cowboys v Titans
These two have played 21 matches with, to no one’s surprise, 13 being won by North Queensland and 8 by the Gold Coast. The Titans haven’t beaten the Cowboys since round 4, 2014.
“We played a couple of grand finals recently and then got done for salary cap breaches” Derby: Sea Eagles v Storm
The Manly-Melbourne rivalry is a surprisingly spiteful one. It derives from the latter half of the 00s, when they were easily the top two teams of the era. Except, of course, Melbourne were cheating and, as it came to light in 2010, had been in gross breach of the salary cap. This denied Manly at least one premiership in 2007, although the Sea Eagles made up for that the next year, flogging the Storm 40-0 in the most lopsided grand final of the NRL era. The irony wasn’t lost on anyone, least of all Storm fans, when the Sea Eagles were punished for comparatively minor cap breaches in 2018.
The two have played 34 times, with the Storm winning 19 and the Sea Eagles 14 and the requisite draw.
“Stop using the best talent from Queensland against us” Derby: Broncos v Storm
This is not a fact but my observation is that the Storm are the third most popular team in Brisbane, after the Broncos and Cowboys. Despite a handicap of approximately 1900km, the success that the Storm have found, particularly with players from Queensland, has endeared them more to Brisbanites and Victorian ex-pats, than the Titans.
In 45 clashes, Melbourne have won an astonishing 31 and only given up 13 wins to Brisbane and a draw. This is easily the Broncos’ worst record against any NRL team. The Broncos have only won two finals matches against the Storm, a preliminary final in 1998 and the 2006 grand final, the latter being the Broncos’ last premiership. Melbourne have won the other six finals contests. Despite the fact that Brisbane haven’t beaten Melbourne at Suncorp since 2009, since then the clash has averaged a smidge under 40,000 in Brisbane.