Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Bulldogs’ Unlikely NRL Grand Final Berth

This week the Bulldogs will play in the National Rugby League Grand Final, despite finishing the regular season in seventh spot. It has been seemingly an unlikely finals run, particularly when compared to the Australian Football League, where no team outside the final four has made a Grand Final since 2000.

Was the Bulldogs’ seventh-place finish misleading? In my AFL Power Rankings system I try to give a ‘truer’ indication of where teams are at by ranking teams according to how much they have won or lost by, adjusting for strength of opposition and home ground advantage, and giving higher weight to more recent games. If I had constructed an NRL Power Rankings for this season, would the Bulldogs have been a top four team?

Probably not. The Bulldogs’ point difference over the regular season was just +7, only the tenth best point difference in the league. How did they perform in recent matches? In their final five matches of the regular season their net margin was -17 in total, or -3 per match, and their opponents were relatively weak with an average net margin of -7 per match. So any NRL rankings system I constructed would have had them ranked around mid-table at best.

I expect the favourites in the AFL win more often than in the NRL; the statistics I found, albeit taken over 2007 to 2011, indicate that AFL favourites win about two-thirds of the time, while the winning percentage of NRL favourites is a few percentage points less. So Grand Final berths by ‘lesser’ finals teams should not be that much more likely in the NRL, although the Bulldogs did start as favourites over the better-performed Sea Eagles and Panthers. Hence, I don’t think there was much to suggest that the Bulldogs were a good chance to make the Grand Final. And I don’t think there is much to suggest that they will beat the Rabbitohs on the weekend, but hey, there is still a one in three chance …

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