Could A Spooky, Six-Decade Statistic Crush The Dragons’ Dreams?

By Alby Talarico.


All sports fans know the comfort of superstition, and all sports tipsters tend to hold a quiet reverence for it – rugby league being no exception. Blake Austin won’t shave his goatee. Tyson Frizell wears those black boots. Woodsy has to have his hair done right. On the fan front, the Blues Brothers go for a flutter at the casino the night before Origin (not all superstitions are successful).

Then there are trends that lend themselves to becoming superstition, such as the second-year to third-year rule. For four decades from 1962, the team that won the grand final in the second year of the decade would also win it in the third. St. George won in 1962 and 1963; Manly won in 1972 and 1973; Parramatta won in 1982 and 1983; and the Broncos won in 1992 and 1993. Of course, the Roosters buggered it all up when they lost to the Panthers in 2003, but then that’s just the kind of disregard for history that you’d expect from Easts, isn’t it?

The Eleven Phenomenon

There’s one modern team with a trend so spooky that it has stayed alive as superstition for six decades. And that, dear tipsters, is the St. George Illawarra Dragons and their dual-club relationship with the number eleven.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a league fan unaware that from 1956 to 1966, the St. George Dragons won eleven premierships in a row. But with the introduction of the four tackle rule in 1967 it all came to an end, and they were knocked out in the preliminary final by the Canterbury Bankstown not-yet-Bulldogs, led by former Dragon Kevin Ryan. The score? Berries: twelve; Dragons: eleven.

The team appeared in the 1971 and 1975 grand finals and were competitive during the interceding years, but no premierships. That was until 1977, when they again lifted the J.J.Giltinan Shield in a triumphant 22-0 grand final replay against Parramatta – eleven years after their last grand final win.

They only played one grand final in the ’80s, 1985 (completing another numerical trend of theirs, a year-five trifecta of 1965, 1975, and 1985), which was lost again to arch-enemies Canterbury Bankstown, who had by that point scored themselves a name – the Bulldogs. But they did win the 1988 Panasonic Cup Eleven years after winning the Premiership in 1977.

Eleven years after their 1985 battle, they played their last grand final as a standalone side, losing to Manly in 1996. In 1992 the Illawarra Steelers defeated Brisbane 4-2 to win the Tooheys Challenge Trophy and made the finals for the first time. It was their eleventh season.

In 1999 the two teams merged to become the St. George Illawarra Dragons – eleven years after the St. George Dragons’ last trophy. And though they came close in 2005, the team didn’t appear in any grand finals in the noughties. That was saved for their 2010 grand final win – eleven years after the merger.

Nothing Comes Close
So what could this mean for their dipping performance in 2017, following that strong start? We asked an expert. “After looking through plenty of unique stats, nothing comes close to the eleven phenomenon for St. George,” says rugby league statistician and historian Andrew Ferguson, co-owner of the Rugby League Project and Stats Amazing columnist at Commentary Box Sports. “The closest are much smaller. Andrew Ettingshausen scored five tries in a game twice, both occurring on August 27 – in 1989, against Illawarra, and 1994, against Souths. And St. George won their first title on August 30, 1941 – Graeme Langlands was born two days later on September 1, 1941.

“But as for tipsters looking at that sort of figure inspiration, I’m more inclined to look at more current data – for example, first half and second half scoring data this year has continued to follow pretty strong trend lines.”

With the first round of the finals kicking off in eleven weeks, maybe there’s time yet for the Dragons to climb back to the top rungs of the eight, and possibly nab the trophy? Here’s hoping fans of the joint venture won’t have to wait until 2021 – eleven years after the first.

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