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Mar 5, 2013

Wanderers set to rewrite football history

Already the talk of the A-League, now the Western Sydney Wanderers are on course to achieve a footballing feat never seen before in Australia.

With the obvious exception of the inaugural season of a competition, no newcomers have ever won an NRL, AFL, Super Rugby or A-League title.

But after chalking up a record-equalling eight straight wins to soar to the top of the A-League ladder, the Wanderers are poised to rewrite Australian sports history.

There have been success stories and gallant near-misses but in more than a century of top-flight rugby league down under no side has tasted premiership glory on debut.

Newly-crowned world club champions the Melbourne Storm have come closest, qualifying for the finals in their first year in 1998 and hoisting the trophy in their second season.

The Storm's dramatic 1999 grand final triumph came against the merged St George Illawarra outfit in the Dragons' own debut season.

Often humbled in their first season, losing 91-6 and 87-7 in 1935, Canterbury made the finals a year later and won their first title in their fourth season.

Even with a virtual Queensland State of Origin line-up at their disposal, the formidable Brisbane Broncos took five seasons to win a premiership.

The Broncos made a blazing entry in 1988, crushing defending premiers Manly 44-10 in their first game, only to miss the playoffs.

They won the mid-week knockout competition in their second season before winning the grand final proper for the first time in 1992.

After Balmain and Western Suburbs merged, Wests Tigers snared their maiden premiership in 2005, their sixth season.

West Coast were the best example of an AFL team making a near-immediate impact.

The Eagles made the finals in their second season, a grand final in their fifth season and won the flag in their sixth year in 1992, becoming the first non-Victorian team to do so in the process.

But like the Broncos, the Eagles were also a virtual state team.

Adelaide made the finals in their third year but not again until their seventh and eighth years in 1997 and 1998, when the Crows won the premiership on both occasions.

In Super Rugby, no expansion teams have experienced any joy.

The Brumbies made the biggest impact early, reaching the Super 12 final in the second season of the competition in 1997, losing to the Blues in the Auckland decider, before winning their maiden title in 2001.

Although the A-League is still in its infancy, the now-defunct Gold Coast United are the only team to have qualified for the finals in their maiden season.

But unlike the cashed-up Gold Coast, who unveiled Kiwi international Shane Smeltz and Socceroos star Jason Culina as their marquee signings, the Wanderers are proving a real-life Cinderella story.

Possibly just two wins away from securing the Premier Plate as minor premiers, major silverware in itself, the Wanderers were only included in this season's A-League six months before kick-off.

Coach Tony Popovic has worked miracles to guide a team of mostly journeymen unwanted by other clubs to the top of the table and tantalisingly close to an unprecedented triumph.

"We'd say openly they've exceeded every expectation both on and off the field in their first season," A-League boss Damien de Bohun told AAP.

"To have a new club in Sydney we thought it would definitely add something, but we didn't expect it to be so successful right off the bat.

"It just proves that anything is possible."

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