The NRL’s return from a nine-week coronavirus shutdown is just around the corner, with the code set to become the first major sporting competition in Australia to restart on 28 May.
Eighteen rounds remain of a season like no other in premiership history – and footy-starved punters will be scouring NRL tips and NRL odds for potential upsets.
The NRL’s lesser lights can take inspiration from these unforgettable boilovers of seasons past.
10. EELS SPOIL BRONCOS’ GRAND OPENING
The Parramatta Eels were supposed to be bit-part players when defending premiers the Brisbane Broncos played their first game at their expansive new ground, ANZ Stadium, in early 1993. But the unheralded Eels – who finished second-last in ’92 as the Broncos marched to a maiden Grand Final triumph – clearly didn’t receive the script.
Julian O’Neill – one of only two Broncos starters yet to play State of Origin football – scored the opening try, but the Eels, led by the likes of Stu Galbraith, Paul Dunn and a teenaged Michael Buettner, rallied to a 12–8 victory, silencing the 51,517-strong Brisbane crowd.
The Broncos and Eels square off in blockbuster opening match of NRL round 3 after the season’s resumption.
9. LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE FOR STUNNED STORM
South Sydney’s road to respectability after being readmitted to the NRL was a rocky and painful one. ‘The Pride of the League’ finished with the wooden spoon in 2003 and ’04 – but they did manage the occasional red-and-green letter day, most notably their upset of the rising Melbourne Storm side in each of those campaigns.
The Rabbitohs took a dismal 1–11 record heading into their mid-2003 clash with the fifth-placed Storm, but a midweek bonding session bankrolled by superfan (and future owner) Russell Crowe – with the likes of Shane Warne and Merv Hughes in attendance – inspired a landslide 41–14 win.
Souths’ eight-match win-less run resulted in the sacking of coach Paul Langmack midway through 2004, but in their first game under new mentor Arthur Kitinas they again rolled the high-flying Storm – who had emerging Queensland Origin duo Billy Slater and Cameron Smith in their ranks – 28–26 after trailing by 16 points early.
These days both clubs are among the NRL’s heavyweight, with a Melbourne/South Sydney NRL Quinella 2020 option on the seventh line of betting.
8. ‘FIBRO’ SPIRIT SUBDUES SEA EAGLES
The Western Suburbs ‘Fibros’ and Manly ‘Silvertails’ forged one of the bloodiest and most captivating rivalries of all time in the late 1970s as two of the competition’s heavyweights. The clubs’ fortunes veered in opposite directions in the 1980s – the Sea Eagles were regular Grand Finalists, while the Magpies struggled for wins and survival – but they continued to produce memorable regular season encounters.
Wests finished last in 1983 but toppled minor premiers Manly 22–18. Despite coming second-last in 1986, the Magpies managed victories at Lidcombe and Brookvale against the finals-bound Sea Eagles. But the competition’s battlers saved arguably their best win of the decade for their 1988 wooden spoon season, overturning a 20–8 scoreline to stun the defending premiers 23–20.
7. FREAKISH COMEBACK A KNIGHT-MARE FOR MELBOURNE
With a 30–20 lead two minutes from full-time and the ball in hand, perennial contenders and $1.22 NRL odds-on favourites Melbourne looked to have secured a hard-earned victory in a late-2014 visit to Newcastle.
But the 14th-placed Knights pulled off the unthinkable. Firstly, Travis Waddell executed a one-on-one strip on Billy Slater and dived over for a try to cut the deficit to four points. Then with time up on the clock, Akuila Uate crossed out wide to level the scores before captain Kurt Gidley buried the Storm with an after-the-siren sideline conversion.
Knights fans and punters who got a piece of the underdogs at $4.25 head-to-head rejoiced after one of the most extraordinary finishes of the NRL era.
The Knights have not featured in the finals since 2013 but have been backed in to make the Top 8 this year after starting the season 2-0.
6. UNDERDOG PUNTERS CASH IN ON TITANIC BOILOVER
Striving to stay in finals contention heading into the penultimate round of 2013, the Gold Coast Titans pulled off arguably the season’s biggest upset against the ladder-leading Sydney Roosters. The $13 NRL betting outsiders raced to a 12–0 lead at Allianz Stadium but seemed destined for an honourable loss after falling four points behind with fewer than 10 minutes to go. Late tries to Brad Takairangi and Dave Taylor provided the Titans with an unlikely 30–22 victory – and punters with a windfall – as NRL tips went out the window.
The Titans would narrowly miss the play-offs, while the Roosters surged to premiership glory.
Now the reigning wooden spooners and currently on an eye-watering 13-match losing streak, the Titans last defeated a team that went on to finish in the top four in 2017. The victory? An equally improbable win over eventual champs Melbourne. Gold Coast are on the last line of NRL 2020 premiership betting.
5. MANLY LEFT RED-FACED IN PERTH
Manly won its second straight minor premiership and powered to an emphatic Grand Final victory in 1996. But Bob Fulton’s star-studded outfit was also on the wrong end of one of the decade’s biggest boilovers.
Arriving in Perth on a nine-match winning streak to take on a Western Reds line-up that had lost nine straight and sat last on the ladder, the Eagles crashed to an 11–8 defeat. The ragtag Reds’ bad-boy recruits Julian O’Neill and Scott Wilson inspired the gutsy result, and helped the doomed club avoid the wooden spoon.
It would be another eight years before a bottom-placed side beat the team on top of the NRL standings (Warriors versus Knights, 2006). It was last achieved by the Bulldogs in NRL round 3 last season (versus the Tigers).
4. SEAGULLS SCAVENGE UPSET FROM ‘BIG BROTHER’
The Gold Coast Seagulls of the early 1990s were so bad they made the current Gold Coast Titans look like the Melbourne Storm. Wooden spooners in each of the previous three seasons, the Seagulls were on a 17-game winless streak when they went into their 1994 round 2 clash against two-time defending champs and overbearing neighbours Brisbane.
But the Seagulls carved out one of the greatest wins of their troubled 11-season existence. Veterans Craig Coleman and Peter Gill were the stand-outs in a 25–12 victory over a Broncos outfit boasting 13 current or future Origin reps, and a club-record crowd of 22,688 lifted the roof off the Carrara Stadium grandstand in response.
3. KEARNEY’S LAMENT AS EELS ROLL LADDER LEADERS
Little went right for New Zealand Test coach (and current Warriors mentor) Stephen Kearney during two seasons in charge of Parramatta, with the team winning just 10 of 42 games. But in a painfully ironic twist, the Eels produced the gutsiest performance of Kearney’s tenure just a day after he announced he would be stepping down from his post, six weeks out from the end of the 2012 campaign.
The $3.70 underdogs hosted NRL frontrunners Melbourne and ground out a 16–10 win, with Jarryd Hayne laying on two early tries and captain Nathan Hindmarsh crossing for the 70th-minute match-winner. Despite winning two of their next three games under caretaker (and current Eels coach) Brad Arthur, the Eels finished with the wooden spoon. The Storm went on to win the 2012 NRL premiership.
The Eels are on the fourth line of NRL 2020 premiership betting – but it’s likely they will have to topple title favourites the Storm at some point.
2. SHARKS’ BACK-TO-BACK COMEBACKS SHOCK HEAVYWEIGHTS
Ravaged by the ASADA saga in 2014, cellar-dwelling Cronulla became the first team in premiership history to be held to zero points three games in a row. The Sharks were on track for a fourth straight outing without troubling the scorers when they trailed Brisbane 22–0 midway through the second half at Suncorp Stadium. But after failing to register a point for more than five hours of football, the $4.30 underdogs surged to an astonishing 24–22 win over the sixth-placed Broncos.
That was a mere entree for another late feeding frenzy as the Sharks broke the club’s biggest comeback record for the second time in a week – this time against defending champs Sydney Roosters. Paying a whopping $9.83 for the win, the Sharks rallied from 24–0 down to claim a 30–28 result, the equal-second-biggest fightback ever.
Cronulla’s stirring fortnight was not enough to avoid the club’s first wooden spoon since running last in its debut 1967 campaign, however.
1. ‘BABY BRONCOS’ SNARE WIN FOR THE AGES
The most famous upset of the NRL era. The Brisbane Broncos were missing nine players on State of Origin duty – plus Queensland coach Wayne Bennett – and had six front-liners on the injured list ahead of their mid-2002 road trip to take on Wests Tigers.
But a team featuring six NRL debutants, several other fill-ins and prepared by assistant coach Craig Bellamy embarrassed the Tigers 28–14 at Campbelltown Stadium. The no-name line-up has been immortalised in the annals of NRL as the ‘Baby Broncos’.
The Broncos boast one of the youngest rosters of any club in 2020 but punters are keeping a keen on their talent-filled side, backing them iat good odds to win the NRL Grand Final.
The revamped NRL 2020 season is sure to produce a number of shock results worthy of joining this list… but predicting which rank underdogs to back is a difficult art form for punters to master.
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