With the modern finals system comprising of so many teams, the chances of one side outlasting seven others is much slimmer than it was under the long used four and five finals systems.
So with the 2016 season storming towards the finals series, many commentators will begin talking about who will become minor premiers. But is there anything history can teach us about the value of finishing at the top of the table other than the monetary prize?
Since 1908 there have been 109 premiers/grand final winners. Of those 109, the minor premiers took home the premiership on 70 occasions, which represents 64.22% of all titles going to the team that finished the regular season at the top of the ladder.
However, eleven of those were under a first-past-the-post system, where no finals took place – thus the team who finished at the top of the ladder after the regular season ended was declared minor premiers and premiers. This brings the percentage back to 60.20%. Still an impressive figure.
From 1938 until 1972, the finals were played by the top-four sides only. From 1973 until 1994, a top-five system was in operation. In the latter period, the minor premiers won 12 titles, at a rate of 54.55%.
From 1995 until last, the finals have almost entirely consisted of eight sides, with a few exceptions: the 1997 Super League season had five teams, the 1997 ARL season had seven teams, and the 1998 NRL season had 10 teams. In the 22 competitions run during this period the minor premiers have won just eight titles, at a rate of 36.36%.
Now while that last figure is considerably low, it still remains a better rate than winning the premiership from a lower place on the ladder. Since 1995, first place has eight titles, second and third have five each, fourth has three premierships, and the sixth-placed team has won once.
There is, however, a different trend that has emerged of late. Since 2007, there has been a two-year gap between each premiership victory for the minor premiers.
In 2007, the first-placed Melbourne Storm won the grand final, while 2008 saw the second-placed Manly Sea Eagles win and 2009 had the fourth-placed Storm as victors.
In 2010, the St George Illawarra Dragons claimed the minor premiership before going on to claim their maiden title. The 2011 season saw second-placed Manly take honours and 2012 had second-placed Melbourne win another title.
The Sydney Roosters claimed the minor premiership-premiership double in 2013, before third-placed Souths won in 2014 and the third-placed North Queensland did the same in 2015.
If that trend continues, the 2016 minor premiers will also go on to win the grand final.
Since 1995, the minor premiers have appeared in 16 of 22 grand finals, winning 50% of those 16.
They have more grand final appearances and victories than any other position. Second-placed sides have appeared in 10 deciders, also winning half. Interestingly, though, the third-placed side has won the last six straight grand finals they’ve appeared in. The last loss by a third-placed finisher was when Penrith went down in the 1990 decider.
So no matter which way you look at it, No.1 spot when the regular season ends is the best place to be. The side that ends up as minor premiers will stand a vastly better chance of reaching the grand final than any other side – which is enough to suggest that the minor premiership does indeed still hold more value than a cheque from the NRL and ownership of the historic JJ Giltinan Shield.
**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**