The 2018 NRL finals are just around the corner, but rather than heating up, the season appears to be on life support.
The Storm are cruising along nicely, but both the Roosters and Rabbitohs have hit the wall and the Dragons and Panthers look like easybeats, and though the Warriors and Sharks are going okay, they seem to lack anything exciting going for them at the moment. The Broncos are coasting along, but I’m not convinced about their premiership credentials.
Meanwhile teams outside the eight are causing upsets every week because they have nothing to play for, making a mockery of the top eight and dragging out the season far too long. For the past six weeks or so I’ve been eagerly looking forward to the finals, but most teams seem to be just going through the motions. Perhaps they have one eye on September, with most of the top eight decided weeks ago.
How do we avoid such a calamity in 2019? Reduce the top eight to a top six and reduce the season to 20 rounds.
A top six ensures only the best teams play finals, and I’m happy for every finals match to be sudden death, with the two lowest placed losers getting eliminated, thus resulting in a short, sharp finals campaign of three weeks with the two best performing teams remaining on grand final day.
I’ve never been a big fan of second chances in the finals. If you finish top but get hammered 48-0 in the opening week, you don’t deserve a second chance.
A top six would see the Storm awarded the minor premiership after the 20 rounds based on performances this season. Scond to sixth places would be occupied by the Rabbitohs, Roosters, Dragons, Panthers and Sharks.
With a top-six finals format and no second chance, a top-four finish isn’t as coveted as it currently is – in fact the only reward you get for finishing in the top four is that you are one of the best performing teams in that season and will be very hard to beat. That is reward enough in my humble opinion.
Unfortunately the Broncos just miss out with a respectable 12 wins and seven losses, including one bye. Under my system we would do away with the bye, which serves no purpose at all other than gifting a team two points. The Warriors also miss out despite a reasonable season, but it ensures only the best teams are there in the finals, thus creating much more importance for each game.
This isn’t the perfect system, and some will argue that having the top team eliminated in Week 1 is very harsh, but if you don’t perform when it matters most, why should you get a second chance? This rewards a lower-placed team for an outstanding performance, getting the job done against all odds, and it would really open up the remaining finals series.
Another argument against this top-six format is that with fewer games, the TV rights deal may not be worth as much, but I disagree – with fewer games, the quality of each game will go up and the appeal of each game will go up, with fans knowing there is little margin for error in a shortened season. Hopefully this encourages fans to get out to the games.
At the moment, with the season dragging on, it feels like there is no urgency in these late-season games, especially with the top eight already decided.
So, Roarers, what are your thoughts? Would you prefer to see the season cut by five rounds and with no byes? Is having a top six a better system than the current top eight? Are you prepared to see the minor premiers bow out in Week 1 if they get hammered?
Let me know in the comments below.
Read more: theroar.com.au