NRL Ladder History, Records & Stats | TopSport

NRL Ladder: History & Records

A quick glance at the NRL ladder is enough to spark excitement or dismay for millions of rugby league fans. It tells you precisely how well your team has fared over the course of the season, so it can make for grim reading at times.

This page dives into the history of the NRL ladder and highlights the key records that have been set over the years. Read on to learn more about the NRL ladder.

NRL Ladder History

The NRL ladder officially began in 1998, but the tournament can trace its origins all the way back to the foundation of the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) in 1908. Eight Sydney-based teams and one from Newcastle were the founding members. South Sydney finished top of the ladder, with Eastern Suburbs, Glebe and North Sydney completing the top four. Newcastle were fifth, followed by Balmain, Newtown, Western Suburbs and Cumberland, who joined in the second round of the competition. Souths went on to beat Easts in the Grand Final to win the inaugural premiership.

The tournament followed a similar pattern until the 1980s, when the NSWRL began to expand and commercial sponsorship flourished. Canberra and Illawarra joined in 1982, making it more of a national competition, and Newtown dropped out the following year. A major milestone came in 1998 when the Newcastle Knights and the first two Queensland teams – Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast-Tweed Giants – joined the party. They enjoyed considerable success, paving the way for it to become a truly national tournament.

In 1995, the NSWRL premiership passed to the Australian Rugby League, with four more teams from outside New South Wales invited to join. Its success attracted the attention of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which created a rival Super League. It attracted some former ARL clubs and enticed many talented stars with lavish salaries. There were 22 teams playing in rival competitions in 1997, leading to low attendance rates. The Newcastle Knights were crowned ARL premiers, while Brisbane Broncos won the Super League. The Super League wars came to an end the following year, and the NRL was formed with the best teams from both leagues.

The Broncos finished top of the inaugural NRL ladder, and they went on to win the Grand Final against Canterbury-Bankstown. There were 20 teams in 1998, but the NRL ladder was cut to 17 the following year, when Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks finished top of the NRL ladder, and then to 14 in 2000. The teams were assessed on playing success, attendance figures, sponsorship deals and so on. Balmain and Western Suburbs merged to form Wests Tigers, while St. George also merged with Illawarra Steelers. Souths were controversially axed, but they were eventually reinstated in 2002.

There are now 16 teams in the NRL ladder: Brisbane Broncos, Canberra Raiders, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, Gold Coast Titans, Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, Melbourne Storm, Newcastle Knights, New Zealand Warriors, North Queensland Cowboys, Parramatta Eels, Penrith Panthers, South Sydney Rabbitohs, St. George Illawarra Dragons, Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers. The team that tops the ladder is always crowned the minor premiers, and they go into the finals series, along with the next seven teams, with the Grand Final deciding the premiership.

NRL Ladder Record Holders

Most NRL Minor Premierships

Sydney Roosters have finished top of the NRL ladder and its predecessor, the NSWRL ladder, more times than any other team. The Roosters were initially known as Eastern Suburbs, or Easts, and they won their first minor premiership in 1912. Easts successfully defended their crown in 1913 and won it again in 1923. They were the dominant force in the 1930s, finishing top of the ladder five times, and they were crowned minor premiers again in 1940, 1941 and 1945.

Additional minor premierships followed in 1974, 1975, 1980 and 1981. A 23-year drought then ensued, before the Roosters finished top of the NRL ladder in 2004. They were minor premiers again in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018, taking their tally to 20, which is three more than Souths. They have won 15 premierships over the years, which leaves them six behind record holders Souths. The Roosters have finished runners-up 15 times, which is also a record.

Most Consecutive NRL Minor Premierships

St. George displayed a remarkable level of consistency to win six straight minor premierships between 1962 and 1967. They also won 11 consecutive premierships in that time from 1956 to 1966. The run finally came to an end in 1967, when they finished top of the ladder but suffered a shock preliminary final defeat to Canterbury-Bankstown.

Most NRL Wooden Spoons

Western Suburbs Magpies hold the unfortunate record of finishing bottom of the NSWRL / NRL ladder on 17 occasions. Their first wooden spoon came in 1909, and then finished bottom again in 1910, 1912 and 1913. Wests had 15 wooden spoons to their name by the time the NRL was formed in 1998, and they finished bottom of the inaugural NRL ladder. The Magpies finished bottom of the NRL ladder yet again in 1999. The club departed top flight competition that year after forming a 50-50 joint venture with Balmain to create the Wests Tigers.

Most Consecutive Wooden Spoons

The late 1950s and early 1960s were bleak years for fans of the Parramatta Eels, who watched their team finish bottom of the ladder six times in a row. The dismal run began in 1956 and ran until 1961. It finally ended in 1962, when they surged up to fourth in the ladder, before losing to Wests in the semi-finals at Sydney Sports Ground.

Best Win Percentage

Melbourne Storm currently have the best win percentage in the all-time NSWRL / ARL / Super League / NRL ladder. They have won 420 out of 630 games, which is precisely two-thirds of all their matches. Brisbane Broncos are next, with an overall win percentage of 59.16%, followed by St. George Dragons with 56.91%.

Most Wins

Sydney Roosters have the most wins in NRL history, with 1,215. That is perhaps unsurprising, as they also have the most appearances (2,278) and their overall win percentage is 53.34%. South Sydney Rabbitohs hold the record for the most defeats. The Bunnies have lost 1,009 out of their 2,205 games. The record for the most draws goes to Norths, who drew 71 games between 1908 and 1999, when they dropped out of the NRL ladder.

Most Consecutive Wins

Two teams share the record for the most consecutive wins. The All-Conquering Easts team of 1975 won 19 games in a row, from 13th April to 23rd August that year. Penrith won 17 consecutive matches in 2020, when they finished top of the NRL ladder, but lost to Melbourne Storm in the Grand Final. In 2021, Melbourne equalled Easts record by winning 19 in a row. In a reversal of fortunes, Melbourne finished top of the NRL ladder that year, but it was Penrith that went on to be crowned premiers.

Largest Winning Margin

The largest winning margin came when St. George thumped Canterbury-Bankstown 91-6 in 1935. That remains the highest score from a single team in history. Canterbury-Bankstown also hold the record for the second heaviest defeat of all time, as they lost 87-7 to Easts just one week later.

Highest Scoring Game

The highest scoring game was Newcastle’s 70-32 win against the Canberra Raiders in 2006. The teams finished fourth and seventh respectively in the NRL ladder that year, but Canberra crashed out in the qualifying finals and the Knights lost in the semi-finals. The second highest scoring game ever was that 91-6 win for St. George against Canterbury-Bankstown.

Lowest Scoring Game

Canterbury-Bankstown also hold the dubious distinction of featuring in the lowest-scoring game ever. They played out a 0-0 draw with Newtown Jets in 1982, which edged out a 1-0 win for Newtown against St. George in 1973.

NRL Ladder Quick Facts

839 – Parramatta Eels scored a record haul of 839 points in the 2001 season
38 – Cumberland managed just 38 points in the 1908 season, the worst record in history.
944 – Wests set an unwanted record by conceding 944 points in 1999.
41 – Souths conceded a mere 41 points during the 1909 season.
6 – The Sydney Roosters managed to keep the opposition scoreless in six straight games in 2013.
36 – Four teams share the record for the highest score by a losing side, with 36 points.
15 – Manly-Warringah won a record 15 consecutive wins at the start of the 1995 season
6 – Six teams have gone unbeaten in an entire season: Balmain in 1915, North Sydney in 1921, Souths in 1925, Easts in 1936 and 1937, and St. George in 1959.
3 – Three teams have gone an entire season without a win: Sydney University in 1935, Souths in 1946 and Easts in 1966
430 – Cameron Smith holds the record for the most NRL games with 430, ahead of Cooper Cronk on 372.
212 – Ken Irvine holds the record for the most tries scored
38 – Dave Brown crossed for a record 38 tries in the 1935 season
8 – Frank Burge holds the record for the most tries scored in a game
2,786 – Cameron Smith scored a record number of points during his career
886 – Wayne Bennett has coached a record number of games during stints with Canberra, Brisbane, St. George Illawarra, Newcastle and South Sydney
71 – Bennett also holds the record as the oldest coach in NRL history