As the meaningless NRL pre-season rolls on, many of us wonder what can be done for excitement. The answer would be some kind of pre-season competition.
Given that teams only want to play two trial matches, it’s hard to have a real knockout comp. So instead of one comp, let’s have four. Two weeks of trials is more than enough (although some teams do play three).
Divide the teams into four separate comps. Then with each group of four teams have a two-week knockout comp.
Offer some prize-money to the winner and runner-up. If teams want to play more trials they could play before this. One thing I like about the current setup is the amount trials in country areas and places without teams. Hobart pulled over 11,000 spectators on the weekend.
You could group the teams into geographic regions to get a bit of rivalry going.
The Western Sydney Cup would involve Wests Tigers, Canterbury, Penrith and Parramatta. The Beaches Cup would be Manly, Sydney, Cronulla and Newcastle. Even if Cronulla moves to the Central Coast it still works.
The Southern Cup could be Melbourne, Canberra, Illawarra, and Souths. The Queensland Cup would be Brisbane, Gold Coast, North Queensland and New Zealand.
Maybe you could seed the first round by the teams’ ladder position the previous year, though for the Southern Cup you would always have Souths versus Dragons in the first round, which could also double as the annual Charity Shield match.
Since last year’s premiers have to play the World Club Challenge, you can leave them out and have their comp as a three-team cup, with teams two and three playing the semi-final to meet seed one in the final, and adjust the prize money accordingly.
The teams that lose in the first week can just play normal trial matches in the second week (like what happens to the eliminated teams in the AFL’s NAB Cup).
The prize money can come out of the funding the NRL gives the clubs – and split the prize money between the players and the club. As an example, give $100,000 to the winner of each of the four cups and $50,000 to the runners-up. I’m sure clubs that are in financial difficulties would definitely want to play hard to win their cup.
It would be an easy way to try to get some meaning (and thus more crowds, viewers and excitement) into our meaningless pre-season, without having a pre-season cup that goes on for four weeks and bores everybody.
Basically, you would have the same number of trial games as normal. Teams that like to play three trial matches can play their extra match on the All Stars weekend as normal trials.
This system of having four small pre-season cups is easy to implement and if it doesn’t work they can get rid of it after a couple of season with no damage done. The only real cost is having some trophies made up (since the prize money could come out of normal NRL club funding).
Using last year’s ladder position as seeding, here are the matches for the four cups (seedings in brackets)”
Western Sydney Cup
Rd. 1/Semis: (1) Wests v. (4) Parra, (2) Bulldogs v. (3) Penrith.
Beaches Cup (Manly absent for World Club Championship)
Rd.1/Semis: (2) Roosters v. (3) Cronulla, winner plays (1) Newcastle (should play final in Gosford).
Rd.1/Semis: (1) Melbourne v. (4) Canberra, (2) Dragons v. (3) Souths.
Rd.1/Semis: (1) Brisbane v. (4) Gold Coast, (2) New Zealand v. (3) Nth Queensland.