Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Rugby League Championship Belt

The Melbourne Storm lost the 2016 Grand Final. But they are still the holders of the Rugby League Championship Belt, and will aim to successfully defend this title on Thursday night against the Brisbane Broncos.
It's a very prestigious title.

There is an idea in football (soccer) about unofficial world champions. It stems from Scotland playing and beating England immediately after England's famous 1966 World Cup win. Scottish supporters claimed, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, this made them unofficial world champions.

Thirty-five years later, someone actually went to the trouble of tracing an unofficial world championship from the very first international in 1872. It turned out Scotland's 1967 victory over World Cup winners England actually did make them unofficial world champions after all. 

There is a book about this championship lineage, published in 2003, which has made the concept somewhat famous - at least in football supporter circles.

There is also a websitewhere the championship has been kept up to date. Chile are the current champions and their next scheduled match is against Argentina. Other title holders through the history of international football include traditional powers like Brazil and Germany, as well as underdogs like Australia (in 1992) and the Netherlands Antilles.

I've undertaken a similar exercise for rugby league, starting from the first NSWRL season in 1908 up to the 2016 Grand Final. I used rugbyleagueproject.org for tracing the Championship Belt lineage.

There are a few differences in method, but the only significant change is that, for the sake of simplicity and minimising title changes, I've instituted a double win rule. This means you must beat the champion twice in a row to become champion - once to earn the right to challenge, then a second time to win the championship.

Current Champion
Melbourne Storm began the current title reign on 30th July 2016. Having defeated North Queensland in Round 10 (R10) to earn a title match, they beat them again in R21, 16-8 in Townsville.

Surprisingly, this is only the second championship for the Storm - the first lasted just over one year from March 2013 to March 2014. Somehow one of the best teams in the NRL managed to avoid earning a title challenge from 1999 to 2013. This is a rare case of clear divergence from the premiership table for the championship, as generally there is a reasonable alignment between the two competitions.

This divergence does mean that while the NRL premiership has been stripped from the Storm for salary cap breaches, the championship belt has never had it prestige diminished by being vacated by a champion.

The Storm have had three defeats since winning the championship, establishing three title matches:
  1. Lost to Canberra, R23. Already successfully defended the championship by winning the Preliminary Final against the Raiders.
  2. Lost to Brisbane, R25. The title bout is this Thursday night in R3, 2017.
  3. Lost to Cronulla, Grand Final. The title match is scheduled for R6, if the Storm successfully defend against the Broncos.
I'll continue to monitor the Rugby League Championship Belt through 2017 and beyond.

Recent Champions
Don't feel sorry for Cronulla, in the event their title match in R6 doesn't eventuate because Brisbane beat Melbourne in R3. The 2016 Grand Final win may have been their first premiership, but they are far luckier with the rugby league championship belt.

They have held the title six times. Only Souths, Easts/Sydney, Canterbury, St. George (pre-merger), Balmain (pre-merger) and Wests (pre-merger) have been champions more often.

Most recently the Sharks won the title by beating Souths in the 2015 Qualifying Final. The following week they lost to North Queensland in the Semi Final, and then lost the title match in the R1 2016 rematch.

The ten most recent champions (working backwards) are:
  1. Melbourne, 30/07/16 to present
  2. North Queensland, 05/03/16 to 30/07/16 - also the premiership holders at the same time
  3. Cronulla, 13/09/15 to 05/03/16
  4. South Sydney, 05/10/14 to 13/09/15 - won at 2014 Grand Final, and the most recent champion to win the premiership trophy and championship belt in the same match.
  5. Canterbury, 29/03/14 to 05/10/14
  6. Melbourne, 21/03/13 to 29/03/14 - first championship
  7. Canterbury, 22/09/12 to 21/03/13
  8. South Sydney, 01/04/12 to 22/09/12 - first title since 1989
  9. Wests Tigers, 01/05/11 to 01/04/12
  10. Canberra, 13/03/11 to 01/05/12 - probably the worst champions ever. They lost the next six matches after getting the belt, to six different teams. The seventh match was a title match against Wests, the first of those six opponents to get a second match. The Tigers won 49-12 in Canberra.

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