NRL finals system provides one little quirk

Luke Doherty Columnist

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Rabbitohs fans - are they in danger of getting too overconfident? (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Robb Cox)

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One point of discussion that has been missing from the sound track of this finals campaign has been the once annual debate around the finals system used by the NRL.

The McIntyre system had few allies by the end of its time and it was promptly consigned to the waste bin by the Australian Rugby League Commission.

The method used by the AFL was introduced and as it stands, we have the top four teams still in the competition fighting it out for a spot in the grand final.

So, it was surprising to hear a talkback caller to the Sports Today program on 2UE last night question the mechanics of the new system.

He asked why Melbourne, who finished second, now have a seemingly easier match by playing Manly, who finished fourth, to get into the grand final.

The Bulldogs, minor premiers, have to play South Sydney, who finished third.

Now, on the surface it appears as though Melbourne actually has the tougher match.

Manly, despite finishing fourth, went into their match in week one of the finals against the Bulldogs as the favourites.

South Sydney seems like an easier clash for the Bulldogs despite the fact they finished ahead of the Sea Eagles on the ladder.

The Rabbitohs were out-classed by Melbourne in week one of the finals and then were always going to get the better of Canberra in Sydney at the weekend.

So, even though this system is far better than the one previously employed by the league, are there a few quirks?

Is their a perfect answer? 

In theory, shouldn’t the highest placed team have the easiest possible route through to the decider?

If that was the case the Bulldogs would be playing Manly again this weekend in a repeat of their clash from week one.

Some would argue that taking on the Sea Eagles would be a tougher test for the Dogs even though they finished below South Sydney on the ladder.

Others could say it would be boring seeing the same two teams face off in the space of three weeks.

Although a re-match between Manly and Canterbury wouldn’t be a tough sell this year, would a repeat of 1 versus 4 be a tough sell in the future?

Team three seeming weaker than team four has created a quirk this year and Dogs fans are probably breathing a sigh of relief that they don’t have to come up against their rivals again this weekend.

Under the current set-up, the team finishing first on the ladder would only get to face a weaker opponent in the preliminary final if an upset occurred in week two.

For example, if Canberra (6th) beat South Sydney they would play the Bulldogs while Melbourne (second) would play either Manly (4th) or North Queensland (5th).

The finals have been an amazing spectacle and rugby league looks set for an unprecedented period of growth and prosperity, but it will be interesting to see if this little quirk causes a stir in the future.

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