The median age of NRL players has dropped significantly in 2021 and an extraordinary premiership stat backs the trend.

As part of a series examining every roster, The NRL Economist assesses the age profile of each team, busting a long-standing myth.

The median age of NRL players is dropping. Over the last three decades the average age of a player has been 26.2, yet this year’s average is just 24.4.

So why have teams such as the Wests Tigers, Penrith Panthers and Newcastle Knights prioritised youth to such an extent? Their squads are close to two years younger than teams like the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Melbourne Storm.

This graph demonstrates the average age of each NRL club's 2021 squad.

A long-standing school of thought has been that veterans provide the mental steel necessary to win a premiership. But is this actually true?

Consider that since the salary cap was introduced in 1990, only one squad had an average age above the mean of 26.2. That was the Cronulla Sharks of 2016, who were loaded with senior players such as Michael Ennis, Paul Gallen, Chris Heighington, Luke Lewis and James Maloney.

The random chance of only one squad in 30 years having an average age above the mean age of 26.2 can be determined by a mathematical equation and equals one in 34.6 million. This demonstrates that an older roster is not the key to success.

For season 2021 backs are slightly younger than forwards, with the Penrith Panthers having the youngest and the Parramatta Eels the oldest.

Kalyn Ponga runs the ball for the Knights, who have the second youngest squad in the NRL.

In the forwards, the North Queensland Cowboys have the youngest pack, compared to the St George Illawarra Dragons forwards who are almost 2.5 years older.

Many wrote off the Sydney Roosters’ hopes upon the terrible run of injuries and concussions to key veterans such as Luke Keary, Jake Friend and Boyd Cordner. Indeed, their loss will harm the team from Bondi, but not all hope is lost.

The younger replacements Trent Robinson has been forced to select may inadvertently provide the youthful spark premiership rosters typically need.

Fresh faced halfback Sam Walker, lightweight hooker Freddy Lussick and the rangy 21-year-old second-rower Fletcher Baker, not to mention the most hyped debut-in-waiting, 17-year-old Joseph Suaalii offer the Tricolours a naive exuberance that veteran players simply cannot produce.

Team (2021)

Total Age

Total Rank

Brisbane Broncos

24.18

8

Canberra Raiders

25.09

12

Canterbury Bulldogs

24.14

7

Cronulla Sharks

24.9

11

Gold Coast Titans

23.93

6

Manly Sea Eagles

23.83

4

Melbourne Storm

25.26

15

New Zealand Warriors

24.26

9

Newcastle Knights

23.61

2

North Queensland Cowboys

23.88

5

Parramatta Eels

25.18

13

Penrith Panthers

23.76

3

South Sydney Rabbitohs

25.3

16

St George Illawarra Dragons

24.75

10

Sydney Roosters

25.22

14

Wests Tigers

23.41

1

AVERAGE

24.41875

 

Disclaimer: The NRL Economist, Ramy Haidar, is employed by NRL club the Manly Sea Eagles. You can follow him on Twitter @ramy_haidar

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