When a coach arrives at a major league club, fresh and excited to make his own mark in the history books, you’d have to think that, as a minimum threshold for success, he’d want to leave the place in better shape than when he arrived. Sometimes, the vagaries of reality make it difficult to assess a coach’s legacy but we can definitely ignore nuance and simplify things down to a nice looking line on a graph.
For this, we use Class Elo ratings. Over this kind of time frame, you can think of the rating as a glorified win-loss stock ticker. It goes up when the team wins and it goes down when the team loses. The rating goes up more for unexpected wins and goes down more for unexpected losses. Grand finals are weighted the heaviest, then finals and then regular season games. Challenge Cup results are included for Super League teams. You can see each team’s class Elo rating history for NRL and Super League.
This post compares different coaches at each club and see how they improved the club’s rating from their first game. I’ve included most, but not all of, the coaches for each club over the last two decades. Caretakers have generally been excluded. I used rugbyleagueproject.org (DONATE TO THE PATREON) to determine the extents of careers but it may not be 100% complete for coaching details and career lengths may be out by a few games. It is very hard to find out which round a coach was sacked from a club in 2003 if it’s not on RLP.
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This article is about the northern hemisphere rugby league competition. For the short-lived southern hemisphere competition, see the League Digest podcast.
To complement the complete histories of the NRL and the Queensland Cup, I humbly present the complete history of the northern hemisphere Super League competition. I will also, at no charge to you, include abbreviated histories of the Championship (from 2007) and League 1 (from 2009). I would go further back but the official rugby league website does not have results back that far.
This being a website that predominantly deals in statistics, I don’t intend to describe the history in words but rather in graphs. Specifically, I will use Elo ratings to chart the paths of each club.
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I do two types of Elo ratings. Form is about the short term performance of clubs, and can represent anywhere from four to eight weeks of results (calculated on the points margin of each game) depending on the draw and league, while class is about long term performance, and can represent the average of years of performance, aggregating wins and losses with small rating changes. Form is a better predictor of match results, class is a better predictor of fan disappointment.
Normally, I treat each league as a self-contained entity, which operates with an average rating of 1500. For the RFL pyramid, I took a different tack and created one class rating system to span the Challenge Cup and the three leagues. The Challenge Cup rounds and finals are weighted the same as their league equivalents and teams carry their rating through promotion and relegation between the leagues. Super League teams start with a 1600 rating, Championship on 1300 and League 1 teams on 1000. Non-league teams are given a 750 rating for Challenge Cup purposes.
Here’s how each team sits going in to the 2020 season:
If you want to see how your team’s history looks, you can jump ahead:
Hull Kingston Rovers
The current format of the NRL doesn’t allow for each team to play each other twice. Doing that would mean extending the season by another six weeks and, even if they players were up for that (which they are not), as an armchair analyst, I don’t think I could cope.
This means that not every team’s schedule is the same. For twenty-four games, each teams plays each other once and plays a second game against nine other teams. The NRL has no particular interest in trying to provide the mythical “balanced schedule” that would be fair for all teams and prefers to use the opportunity to use a doubling up of rivalry games to generate commercial returns.
This might seem grossly unfair, especially if your team has to play the premiers twice, but it is what it is. What I’m interested in looking at this week is how slanted the schedules are and who will have an easier time of the 2019 NRL season and who will have to do it the hard way.
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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.
Last year, I did a report on each NRL club featuring a bit of history, a few statistics and some graphs. The series didn’t do super well in terms of clicks but also didn’t take a lot of effort to produce.
One thing I did enjoy putting together were the class graphs. These use a slow moving Elo rating system called Eratosthenes to track the long term performance of clubs. You can see a full listing of all current ratings here.
If you’ve got the right kind of stuff between your ears (that is, if you’re a massive nerd), each picture tells each team’s thousands of words history in the NRL. To that end, I’ve updated all sixteen clubs’ graphs to the end of the 2017 season for your nerdy consumption.
Can we predict a premiership winner from their Elo ratings?
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Obviously, yes. That’s what the Stocky is for and this site would pointless if this was not true. But what if we wanted to look into the future before a single game has been played? I think that the Elo ratings of premiership winning teams might have a common pattern to them that show up if we take a closer look at their long term performance, or class, ratings with Eratosthenes.
We’ll need some premiership winners to review. To do this analysis I’ve tried to pick one premiership per club (to avoid autocorrelation) and pick a premiership that stands on its own. That eliminated a number of
premierships years for Melbourne and multiple premierships for Manly and Brisbane. I also biased it towards more recent premiers where possible. I was left with the following list:
The Melbourne Storm were founded in 1998, in the immediate aftermath of the Super League-ARL dispute. Getting a team in Melbourne was a priority for Newscorp in order to expand the footprint of the game.
Early financial concessions meant that the Storm won their first premiership in only their second season in 1999. Thereafter, more sustained success arrived, with three minor premierships in a row from 2006 to 2008, four grand finals in a row from 2006 to 2009 and two premierships in 2007 and 2009. Melbourne, and rivals Manly, were the most dominant teams of this period. It all came apart in 2010 when massive salary cap rorts were uncovered. The Storm were stripped of the minor and major premierships from the 2006 to 2009 period and lost all their competition points in 2010, ensuring the club’s only wooden spoon.
The Storm bounced back quickly, winning a legitimate minor premiership in 2011 and a premiership in 2012. Since then, they’ve kept winning with two more minor premierships in 2016 and 2017. There’s not a lot of superlatives left to describe the Storm – even their cheating was monumental and they’ve had more NRL titles stripped than most clubs have won – and the 2017 team could make an excellent case for being the best vintage produced in the last twenty years.
Founded in 1908 as Eastern Suburbs, the Sydney Roosters are one of rugby league’s longest standing clubs. Playing out of Allianz Stadium, the Roosters (or Easts or City or Tricolours or Chooks) are one of the NRL’s success stories, having won thirteen premierships and nineteen minor premierships in their long history.
More recently, Easts have been one of the most successful of the Sydney based clubs, winning three minor premierships in a row from 2013 through 2015, including a premiership in 2013, and were a powerhouse in the early 2000s, winning the premiership in 2002. The club has attracted a large number of stars over the years, including Brad Fittler, Adrian Lam, Arthur Beetson, Ron Coote, Anthony Minichello, Craig Fitzgibbon, the original immortal Dally Messenger and some gronks like Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney.
Sydney maintain a close rivalry with Souths that is the subject of the Ron Coote Cup.
Wests Tigers have won one premiership. The year was 2005 and a young Benji Marshall side-stepped an entire league to lead his team to an extremely unlikely victory over grand final debutants, the North Queensland Cowboys. The Tigers had finished the regular season in fourth, behind the Eels, Broncos and Dragons.
The Tigers were formed in 2000 from a merger of the Western Suburbs Magpies, a team the NSWRL had been trying to get rid of for years, and the Balmain Tigers. The resulting joint venture has struggled for success beyond their fairytale year but never have hit the rock bottom of receiving a wooden spoon. It’s been six years since the Tigers featured in the finals and a year or two of re-building is ahead before they may make another appearance.
What a team the Canberra Raiders were in the early 1990s. As one of the NSWRL’s first expansion teams in 1982, the Raiders made five grand finals between 1987 and 1994 (that’s seven years!). Of those five grand finals, Canberra won three of them in 1989, 1990 and 1994. Jason Croker, Mal Meninga, Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley, Brett Mullins, Gary Belcher, Glenn Lazarus, Craig Bellamy, Tim Sheens – the list of top players in those premiership winning sides is almost endless.
Since then, it’s been a whole lot of nothing. The Raiders have been poor but not so bad that they even find themselves at the bottom of the ladder. 2016 was a year of redemption, finishing second on the ladder, the momentum of which they have blown throughout the 2017 season and they will be lucky to make the finals.