The perfect NRL season proposition
Craig Bellamy wears a Gatorade shower following the NRL Grand Final between the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Melbourne Storm at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012.(AAP Image/Ben Zonner)
We are sorting out many things in rugby league these days and it’s all for the better.
But one thing that remains an issue and will do for some time is the season schedule in regards to competition optimisation.
We have a beast called Origin and it causes some disruption. We have the draw sorted to my mind as best we can.
But no physical sport in the world plays as many games as our NRL players are asked to play. As fans, we want to see as many games as possible, but how many is too many?
There seems to be a case for reducing the competition, but we don’t want to cheapen it, and nor do we want a situation where it’s too long, games become meaningless. To my utter dismay, finals games are almost always never sold out.
People often tell me they want some kind of better continuity for rugby league, and they want any niggling issue sorted out.
Thankfully we have the commission who is doing just that. But there is one dark corner no one has touched on in a long time.
Often people tell me they want a ‘league cup’ style aspect to rugby league somewhere, well this is it. Lap it up. And it serves a great purpose.
But its not exactly a league cup – and how can it solve problems and provide enormous benefits, while engaging people like never before?
I will show you, but you can skip to the second part if you are short on time, I recommend you don’t though.
Because you won’t understand how our season is a ho-hum affair at times, with 26 gruelling games to win simple seed-placings for a drawn-out finals series that fails to attract good crowds often.
It is also a bit complicated to garner wide interest beyond the level of ‘when is my team playing in the finals, and how come we have this game and what does it mean?’
To my mind, its no good having all these ‘context’ related questions surrounding a match-up!
I am laughing to release some tension – because it’s a horrible state of affairs, not because of the situation as much as because it could be so easily so much better.
Is not the path to the grand final superflous? It’s the NRL grand final that matters…..and thats great – but it’s the season that gives the grand final its context, and without a magnificent seasonal-journey, what is a grand final?
Competitions with grand finals are always compromised in their goals. The tragedy of a compromised competition is that you can’t focus on both levels to equal effect.
You just want to get the season over to get to the grand final, then you just want to forget the season (all 26 gruelling rounds) to focus on the finale.
This is all ok, but to my mind, the season has its problems in its current form – length, State of Origin interruption, player burnout, fan-focus.
The last four rounds of any year are honestly a trial of patience, and the games are often meaningless.
I have the solution to this and all to my way of thinking.
So let me ask you: Why is it that we don’t celebrate the NRL season’s true best team?
Why is it that the best regular-season team, the one that beat everyone else over 26 games becomes an afterthought in the finals series?
They are given accolades, sure, but they are never held high: being first over the season is not an achievement, it is merely a seeding for the finals.
It’s my belief that the competition loses some of its lustre for that.
When you watch the English Premier League, you know that each game is meaningful. We may not have relegation in league, so we can only focus on the top half.
I’d like to shift the focus a fraction. I’d like to bring new dimensions to the game, while addressing all the problems surrounding how our year pans out.
Surrounding this core issue are many others. I don’t intend to give a run down on each issue so I will only give highlights: player burnout, finals games poorly attended, maintaining interest, the length of the season, how to get more internationals, how to fit in origin, etc.
The question remains, how to address all these while still giving the season its best run?
The one thing I intend is to propose a solution for you to consider. Maybe this is something we can send to the NRL and just ‘put it in a drawer somewhere’ until the time is right.
That time may be closer than many would think.
Soccer captures this imagination best with how they run their premiership leagues I believe. The best team all year is the one that wins. But in soccer they sometimes lament (it gains voice) that they have no grand final in their leagues.
So how to get the best of both worlds? We have a chance in rugby league to do just that.
September could become a month of trophies, while the year will become a ‘race for the premiership – not just a method to seed teams for finals.
I would think such a notion would generate unprecedented interest in the NRL competition.
Sure, interest is already (or once again) sky high at work; but I think we can take it even higher.
Give it meaning, put it in a frame, and generating nothing but momentum and good.
The season should be a journey that is rewarded, and the success of the foremost team should be highlighted and celebrated.
I think we are missing out in rugby league with a simple finals series tacked onto the end of a season which serves nothing more than to seed finals teams.
Games should not be individual matches separated by weeks. They should each have a significance, just like in soccer competitions.
To this end, I propose the following.
September to become a month of trophies
This is in contrast to the race for the premiership trophy. This will all slowly fit together – so please place yourself in such a state of mind to get an idea of the timeframes and how you’d feel about them.
22 rounds for the NRL premiership
Leave State of Origin same time as now, at least one stand alone game (preferably two), no split rounds. All players play in all competitions, and should only have to back-up at most once.
No byes – apart from Origin week
With bigger squads now (or mooted) it should not be a problem to rest stars on rotation at points during the year if they need a rest.
So you may have one star player sit out, or come off the bench where needed, or at least play less game time.
The competition draw is done based on geographical location with there being two invisible conferences on a single competition ladder.
A Roar poster mentioned this in the NFL vs NRL thread:
“..getting 22 rounds. You have permanent geographic conferences, but purely for determining a draw, there would still be a normal top 8,” he said.
“The reason I suggest this is 3-fold. firstly, certain teams attract poorly away from home, eg NQueensland, accordingly they should always play Bris and GC twice per year. secondly, the maths add up as will be shown soon.
“Lastly, it saves a smidge on travel costs and time. Here’s how the divisions would work:
“North: NQueensland, Bris, GC, Newc, Manly, Parra, Cbury, Penrith.
“South: NZ, Melb, Canb, Cron, Wests, Souths, St.Geo, Easts.
“Under my suggestion you play everyone once (15 games) and everyone in your div again (7 + 15 = 22 rounds).
“As you can see you always get a Parramatta versus Canterbury game twice per year, same for Wests Tigers, Souths, St Geoorge always playing each other twice per year.
“Bris always play GC twice per year. All of these match-ups are good for crowds, time, travel costs – they just make sense!”
The winner of the premiership gets the accolades of being the best team all year
To that effect, they gain automatic entry into the grand final. They get a large prize, perhaps 70 percent of the total pool.
Truly – I want people playing the NRL grand final just to win, not for money, or rings.
You get a premiership ring when you win the premiership, you can get something else when you win the GF, maybe a medal, but save the riches for the 22-round competition.
You play the grand final just to beat the other team, to become ‘grand final winner’. A one-off. Not premiership winner.
It’s similar to some of the ‘shields’ played throughout the season.
The finals series is contested as a knockout for teams 2-9
The reasons for this are attendance, season length, regular-season premiership focus and to make each game count.
It’s not a progression – which to me has always been a wishy-washy way of saying they want to extract the most money out of it as possible for tv, etc.
I say make it a knockout because then there is no excuse for not turning up if you’re a fan of any level of commitment.
Your team loses and they are done for the year – so it could be your last chance to see them.
Plus, as a matter of continuation, the finals should not simply be a seeding of teams and a whittling down of those teams until one is left.
Life is too fast now, once the grandeur of the regular season is done – hey, we want the grand final already because the last four games of the regular season are often tiresome (in a 26 round, not 22, competition). So make it happen.
Just by making these finals games knock-out affairs generates a significance all of its own.
People often tell me they want a ‘league cup’ style aspect to rugby league somewhere, well this is it, it could serve a great purpose.
If you are following my thinking, you will be thinking that the 22-round premiership winner will have to wait three weeks to play in the grand final, and that this is a lot of time to get rusty.
There is no immediate answer to this. On the one hand, after 22 straight weeks of competition will three weeks make such a massive difference?
Possibly. I am not a coach at the moment and neither am I in the NRL. Wayne Bennett may be rolling his eyes at this three-week break.
Why don’t they play the World Club Challenge during the second week of the premiership winner’s three-week break?
Instead of making the WCC a match between grand final winners, make it a match between premiership winners.
Of course, England would have to adopt such a break in their season.
It’s an interesting proposition, and otherwise the WCC would be played directly after the grand final within two weeks.
If they don’t want to do the WCC during this time it’s fine, and the premiership winners can play a trial game if they so wish.
Or they can invent some kind of match between one team thats missed the finals and make a new sheild. A wildcard match.
Don’t say such things would not work – it’s a trial game, its primary inception is to keep the premiership winners match-fit and sharp.
In the days of MMA, etc, people can accept new novelties that build into tradition. Also, this match is not compulsory, it’s at the premiership winner’s behest.
After the season you can play the international season. Either a tour, Barbarians match, Tri/Quad Nations, Pacific Nations or World Cup.
So overall you would have a season during the middle of which you play State of Origin, premiership winner gains automatic entry to grand final, and the finals series would be a knockout affair, no second chances, contested between teams 2-9.
That means there are only seven finals games and one grand final to make a total of eight. The proposed system has only one less game, making seven.
Is there any other way to solve all the little niggles surrounding the game and its modern form?
At the same time we are maximising everything and restoring prominence and continuity to the premiership and the competitions that thrive off it.
Can you imagine any fan not wanting to, or expressing desire to, turn up to a knock-out finals match should they in any way be able and inclined?
So thats my proposal, and look, we shook it up with the independent commission, and people said that was impossible – now we can shake up the formation of the season.
This is definitely one to put away in the drawer for a future season. But when we do actually do it, I think we will have the perfect season ahead.