NRL 2020 Predictions: Simulating Every Club's Premiership Chances

With the 2020 NRL season almost here, the Stats Insider Futures Model has done the hard yards in simulating the season 20,000 times to produce our futures projections.

Our in-house player rating metrics, team ratings and schedule difficulty pour in before spitting out a robust set of numbers that consider everything from Round 1 through to projected finals matchups and a Grand Final winner.

There is good news for some (Storm, Roosters, Raiders), but bad news for others (Tigers, Bulldogs, Titans). 

So, let's take a look at how the 2020 NRL season might play out.

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*All Data/Probabilities as of 10th March, 2019* 

The Major Contenders

The Stats Insider futures model has crunched the numbers and is spitting out a new premiership-winning team.

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The Melbourne Storm win 18.1% of the 20,000 simulations of the 2020 season. While hardly a "new" winning team after lifting the trophy in 2017, many will rejoice in the fact the Sydney Roosters aren't favoured to win a third consecutive premiership. Although, they're certainly a chance at 17.4%. With Josh Morris joining the club after Round 2, the Chooks number may receive a bump once SI's in-house player rating metrics add him into the mix.

The 2019 beaten grand finalists complete the list of major contenders. The Canberra Raiders are at 13.6% to go one better and lift the Provan-Summons Trophy in 2020. While Canberra has lost stacks of talent on the right side, an excellent left edge and their favourable schedule difficulty is enough to keep them in the hunt.

With the Storm (85.5%), Roosters (80.7%) and Raiders (80.1%) all above 80% to make the Top 8, we can all but lock the three of them into playing finals football.

Getting Six Into Five

That leaves five spots available left in the Top 8. But, we've got six more teams above 50% to make the finals.

The Parramatta Eels are at the forefront of the 2020 hype-machine. Hopes are high within the fan base, and while the futures model isn't quite prepared to put them up with the major contenders, many of the talking heads among the media landscape can't speak about them any more highly. At 62.7% to make the Top 8, we can anticipate seeing the Eels play September footy. They're only at 8.7% to lift a trophy at the end of it, though.

Darlings of the 2019 season, the Manly Sea Eagles won't be surprising people this year. At 60% to make the Top 8, 29.3% to crack the Top 4 and 7.2% to win the Grand Final, plenty is expected of Des Hasler's men this season. Their fourth-easiest schedule helps things, too.

While the SI rating system has them above Manly, the South Sydney Rabbitohs trail in the probability percentages. With the fourth-hardest schedule in the NRL, the Bunnies are at 57.1% to make the Top 8, 27.1%for the Top 4, and a 6.7% chance at the premiership.

Nobody knows what the Cronulla Sharks will be in 2020 and their 51.1% to make the Top 8 just about sums them up. They could go either way, and it's further reflected when their probabilities are lined up against the North Queensland Cowboys. At 5.7% to win the grand final to North Queensland's 5.1%, Cronulla is more likely to be crowned premiers. However, such is the unpredictability of this club, the Sharks rate a higher chance to win the wooden spoon at 3.7% to the Cowboys' 2.9%

Wrapping up the Top 8 contenders at this stage, the Brisbane Broncos come in at 51.2% to play finals football and 4.4% to go on and win the whole thing from there. Although, Jack Bird's latest ACL injury and the shakeup it will cause in the backline hasn't yet been factored into the futures model at the time of writing.

The Chasers

A bolter comes out of nowhere to crack the Top 8 every season. 

Sometimes we see two.

The Eels and Sea Eagles climbed from 16th and 15th in 2018 to 5th and 6th in 2019.

Who will it be in 2020?

Probably one of these three teams.

There is a bit of buzz around the Penrith Panthers to start this season. Nathan Cleary is now without James Maloney in the halves, which in 2019, saw the 22-year-old play his best football. If he can do that for 24 rounds, the Panthers' 46.4% to make the Top 8 will receive a bump.

The Newcastle Knights have the easiest schedule in the NRL heading into Round 1. With it, they're making the Top 8 in 44.4% of the model's 20,000 simulations. While the Panthers (3.9%) are above the Knights (3.2%) in the premiership percentages, Newcastle's schedule has them at just 4.3% to finish the season with the most losses compared to Penrith's 5.1%.

Wests Tigers fans are sick of the 9th jokes. They've ended the season at 9th on the ladder two seasons in a row and in three of their last four. The Stats Insider futures model has some bad news, Tigers fans. At 2.2%to win the premiership and 32.8% to make the Top 8, the NRL's current longest finals drought looks set to continue into 2021.

ALSO READ: Joey Leilua gives the Tigers' Fans a Reason to be Optimistic

The Wooden Spoon Conversation

Four teams make up most wooden spoon conversations heading into Round 1.

The St George Illawarra Dragons went close in 2019 finishing 15th, but the model has three teams above their 11.1% for the most losses in 2020. A team with Ben Hunt, Corey Norman and Paul Vaughn shouldn't be finishing a season holding the wooden spoon. 

RELATED: Dragons fans' loyalty to be tested in 2020

A staple in this discussion every year despite never actually 'winning' the wooden spoon, the New Zealand Warriors are at 12.1% to earn their first in club history. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is one of the best players in the world and the home ground advantage tends to be enough to keep the Warriors above 16th. There is a distinct lack of talent this season compared to others, though. They'll be in the hunt if Tuivasa-Sheck misses a large chunk of the season.

The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are already in trouble. Perhaps lucky for them, the model won't be taking the emotional toll of the latest scandal to hit NRL headlines into account. It will, however, consider Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor's absences should their contracts be torn up. Canterbury's 16.3% to finish 2020 with the most losses might be a little generous at this stage.

ALSO READ: The Bulldogs could lay some long-lasting foundations in 2020

As the current holders of the unwanted culinary tool, the Gold Coast Titans are the favourites for the wooden spoon at 24%. The Titans don't have the luxury of playing themselves so the Schedule Difficulty ratings will always weigh heavily against them. However, their opening five games are a nightmare for any team. While it looks like things are improving for the Titans, a quick rebuild and return to the Top 8 is unlikely (14.4%).

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Jason Oliver

As far as Jason is concerned, there is no better time of year than March through June. An overlap of the NBA and NRL seasons offer up daily opportunities to find an edge and fund the ever-increasing number of sports streaming services he subscribes to. If there's an underdog worth taking in either code, he'll be on it.

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