Cronulla won a premiership. You might have heard about it. It was last year. It was also their first since joining the NSWRL premiership in 1967.
The Sharks are also the only team stupid enough to recently get caught in a doping scandal. In the NRL, you’d basically have to leave a box of used syringes with a note saying what was in them on the front doorstep of NRL House and I’m still not sure the authorities would put two and two together. To get pinged for peptide use while not even being good enough to make the finals in 2013 and 2014 is a level of dumbassery unsurpassed in the sport of rugby league.
That aside, prior to those incidents, Cronulla were a journeyman’s team. They were never terrible (only three wooden spoons to their name, two from the early days and one in 2014) but never great (refer lack of premierships, 1967-2015). The Sharks were the home of some top class individuals, including Andrew Ettinghausen, Steve Rogers, Brett Kimmorley and David Peachey. Their current line-up features stars, including Valentine Holmes, and also features some guys that have contributed to multiple Origin losses, like Paul Gallen, James Maloney and Andrew Fifita.
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Parramatta of the ’80s and Parramatta of the ’00s were powerhouses of top flight rugby league. The ’80s vintage managed to win their first, second, third and fourth premierships. The ’00s vintage, on the other hand, was less successful. In 2001, Parra won all but four games of the regular season, taking the minor premiership, and secured a grand finals berth. The opportunity to claim their first title in fifteen years went begging as Newcastle took honours that year. A less dominating, but still minor premiership winning, performance in 2005 took them deep into the finals only to be eliminated at the preliminary final by the Cowboys.
Depending on your perspective, the Eels were robbed of a premiership in 2009. Despite finishing in eighth position that year, Parra made the grand final against the Melbourne Storm. The Storm won the game but were later stripped of the title due to salary cap breaches. It would be the last time the Eels played finals football, declining from there to pick up back-to-back wooden spoons in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Parramatta joined the illustrious club of serious salary cap breachers themselves. This cost them their first shot at finals football since 2009. With that behind them, the Eels are well on track this year to break their drought.
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The Gold Coast Titans have only been in the NRL since 2007. The Titans franchise are the most recent iteration of top-level rugby league’s attempts to crack the Gold Coast market, following in the footsteps of the Giants (1988-89), Seagulls (1990-95) and Chargers (1996-98).
Gold Coast peaked in 2009 and 2010, managing top four finishes. Since then, results have been thinner on the ground and the club collected a wooden spoon in 2011. The Titans finished outside of the finals spots every year until last season when the Eels were docked enough points for them to sneak in, only to be eliminated in the first round against the Broncos.
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St George Illawarra were the first club to form from a merger of the 1980s expansion team Illawarra Steelers and the second most successful NSWRL premiership side of the St George Dragons. The team met early success in their first year, reaching the 1999 grand final and going down to the then newly minted Melbourne Storm.
Through the 2000s, the Dragons were always a threat, regularly making finals appearances. This period of strength reached its peak at the end of the decade with back-to-back minor premierships under Wayne Bennett with Darius Boyd, Jamie Soward and Brett Morris and winning the big one in 2010. Leaner years have followed recently, with the Dragons appearing in only one finals series since 2012. Nonetheless, the Dragons stormed off to flying start this year and remain in contention for a final appearance.
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In the tumult of the instigation of the National Rugby League, one of Sydney’s oldest and most successful clubs was on the chopping block after years of below average performance on and off the field. Needing to rationalise the competition to fourteen teams in 2000, the NRL took the decisive step of excluding South Sydney from the competition. This led to years of court action, unprecedented protests and investment from movie stars before the Rabbitohs were returned to the NRL in 2002.
The Bunnies’ return to the NRL was not met with success. Spared the wooden spoon in 2002 thanks to the Bulldogs‘ salary cap rorting, Souths would take the spoon in three of the next four seasons before starting the long march back to the top. Souths first finals appearance in 2007 was the club’s first since 1989. A shallow few years passed before it clicked into place with three consecutive top four finishes and a premiership in 2014.
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Penrith first joined the NSWRL in 1967, the same year that Cronulla was admitted to the competition. Success came much sooner for the Panthers, reaching their first grand final in 1990 and taking out the big prize in 1991.
The Panthers had some leaner years, including a very mediocre 2002 season, before a surge at the start of the 2000s saw a side featuring Rhys Wesser, Preston Campbell, Ryan Girdler, Luke Priddis and captained by Craig Gower taking a second premiership in 2003 and making it deep into the finals the following year.
Since then, the club seems to have a spurt of quality for a season or two before fading into the background again. The Panthers look to be going through a similar spurt at the moment with finals football the cards for two years in a row, which would be only their seventh NRL finals appearance.
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We tend to think of the North Queensland Cowboys as an indisputable top team but in doing this, we forget just how crap they were when they first started out in 1995. The Cowboys joined the ARL as an expansion team at the same time as the Warriors, South Queensland Crushers and Western Reds. Only two of those teams survive today and it was tricky going as the Cowboys established themselves and searched for acceptance in the early days. Eventually, North Queensland built a following in regional Queensland, particularly around their home in Townsville, and their rivalry with the intrastate Brisbane Broncos is one of the most fiercely contested in the NRL.
Since superstar halfback Johnathan Thurston has came to the helm, the Cowboys have strung together a series of finals appearances as good as any team in the league, featuring every year since 2011. Their zenith was reached in 2015 when North Queensland won their first premiership, twenty years after their founding, beating the Broncos in golden point.
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