Australia: Only two teams have ever won the premiership from outside the top four. Could the Roosters be the third?

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Championship qualities are easy to identify in retrospect but harder to see while they're being forged.

Teams might start looking to have that premiership quality long before the finals, or they might find them a few weeks before the playoff, or they could just catch fire for three good weeks in September and find themselves on top of the world.

It's only once the dust has settled on the first Sunday in October that we know what we were looking at.

But there is one constant thread between almost every single team that's ever won a title. Of the 113 teams that have claimed premiership glory since 1908, 111 of them have finished in the top four.

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For those of you who enjoy a stat, that's 98.23 per cent. The 1993 Broncos won the comp from fifth, the 1995 Bulldogs did it from sixth and that's it.

Safe to say, if you want to win the grand final a top four berth is more than everything, it's the only thing. If you're planning a premiership campaign don't leave home without it.

But it's not impossible, is it? Those Brisbane and Canterbury teams showed it can be done, if you're good and lucky and a few other things. Two out of 113 is not a strike rate you can rely on, but every year we go without a team winning from outside the four we go closer to the year it will happen again.

On Thursday night, the Roosters sure didn't look like they'll make it 111 teams from 114 premiers. Before they took the field against a Manly side that had been through something bigger than football during the week, a massacre was predicted.

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In the end, the Roosters won 20-10 and wins are wins, and they're better than losses, but it wasn't the kind of statement one would expect from a classic Tricolours premiership run.

The gallant Sea Eagles, missing seven players and coming off a week unlike any other in the club's history, dug deep enough that by fulltime the story wasn't about how brutally the Roosters tore them apart – it was about how Des Hasler's side rose above themselves despite the odds.

That's not a fatal thing, because nobody knows how to get a team to time their run better than Trent Robinson, and no team knows when to start sprinting as well as the Roosters do. Those premierships in 2018 and 2019 are still large in their memory.

And there's a parallel there, between them and the 93 Broncos and the 95 Bulldogs. The Brisbane side had won the premiership the year before. The Bulldogs were coming off a grand final loss when they made their run to glory. They knew what success looked like, knew what it cost and they knew how to get there. These Roosters – most of them, at least – know that as well.

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That's why it's so frustrating to see them regress like they did on Thursday night. They had been building for the last two weeks – there was a big and breezy win over the Dragons before another thumping victory over the Knights.

James Tedesco was playing out of his mind and so was Joseph Manu. Joseph Suaalii was, somehow, living up to the impossible hype. Luke Keary was back and looking sharp, so was Victor Radley. All the old pieces were coming together, with some newer ones coming into focus at the same time.

It's so easy to expect the old Roosters to show up. You know, those Roosters that become death, destroyer of worlds. Those Roosters that play for premierships. Those Roosters who are so good, so big, so brutal and brilliant that in their shadow nothing good nor godly can ever grow.

We are waiting for those Roosters, and they can win a competition from anywhere and they could become the third team out of 114 to do it the hard way.

But they aren't here yet. The win over Manly had flashes of it, brief glimpses that make the heart stop or contract in fear.

Like when Radley, Keary, Tedesco and Sam Walker all touch the ball in a single play and it zings across the backline with lightning speed, for example, or when Suaalii flies high for a ball or races into contact like he's some dog-eared scrapper and not one of those special ones who are blessed with generational talent, or when Manu manages to find tries in situations where tries should never be found.

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But then there's dropped balls, or mistimed passes, or a lack of execution, or defence that is leaky and patchy and has been for longer than the Roosters would ever like to admit, and the picture of how great this team could be vanishes in a second.

In all likelihood, they'll arrive at their destination soon enough – but whether it's this year is still hard to say.

It could all click together because there are ways they can get better. Switching Keary and Walker around in the halves has paid dividends already and will only pay off further as they settle into their natural roles.

Tedesco still stands over the competition like a colossus as the truly great player of these times – the likes of Tom Trbojevic, Cameron Munster and Nathan Cleary rise and fall around him, but nobody touches Tedesco in terms of the sheer consistency of his brilliance. With a player like that, anything can happen.

Outside of Bondi, there's plenty of signs of life in other sides around the Roosters on the ladder. Writing off Melbourne has been an easy way to lose money for a long time now, Latrell Mitchell can take South Sydney an awfully long way, for all their own issues Parramatta are still very gifted and perhaps their current circumstance, and the possible return of Tom Trbojejvic, can bring something special out of Manly.

But if you were the kind of gambler who sees a run of two from 113 and thinks we're due for three, the Roosters are the ones you'd back even if we're getting closer and closer to the finals and there's less and less time for it all to come together.

There's just so much to like and, it all comes out just often enough to think there'll be something to love.

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Every team’s run home: Toughest schedule, predicted finish for rest of NRL season after Round 20 .
There’s little more than a month left in the regular season, five weeks which will determine more than just who misses the playoffs. Careers are on the line for players, coaches and administrators as the 16 NRL teams jockey for position over the closing weeks of the schedule. Premiers Penrith are now not so certain to finish first after Nathan Cleary was sent off and banned for the rest of the regular season after his spear tackle on Dylan Brown in the loss to the Eels on Friday night.

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