Six sells: Why the NRL must introduce a top six finals system

Adam Bagnall Roar Pro

By , Adam Bagnall is a Roar Pro

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    On my long and lonely train ride from ANZ Stadium yesterday after witnessing my Dragons crash and burn, I had plenty of time to ponder about life, and more importantly, rugby league.

    Heading into the final round, only the Cowboys and Dragons could still qualify, but neither really deserved to be there.

    The Dragons’ record of 12 wins, 12 losses, should have seen them well out of contention, but they came very close to qualifying, and in fact, they led the Bulldogs by six with just 15 minutes remaining.

    The Cowboys have battled on bravely without Johnathan Thurston and qualify following a loss to the Broncos and the Dragons going down, hardly reason to get excited is it?

    A top six would ensure only the best teams qualify for the business end of the season and would reduce the finals period to three weeks. This format would ensure that teams aren’t making the finals with inferior records, see the Titans of 2016 which made the finals despite losing more games than they won.

    Over the last ten seasons, teams have needed 14 wins to finish sixth, on six occasions, which is a pretty decent season and deserving of a tilt at the top prize.

    Johnathan Thurston celebrates after winning the NRL Grand Final

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Go all the way back to 2002, and the Dragons made the finals despite winning just nine games all season, an embarrassment to the NRL and something that should never happen; we should be rewarding consistency, not mediocrity.

    Based on the 2017 season, both the Panthers and Cowboys wouldn’t be playing next week, and neither deserve to with 13-win, 11-loss records, whereas Manly, at sixth, have a pretty impressive 14-win, 10-loss record and deserve to be there.

    Having eight teams qualify for the finals in a 16 team competition cheapens the idea of actually qualifying because you know your team has a 50 per cent chance of making it. By introducing a top-six finals format, they would really have to earn their spot.

    A top six, based on 2017 standings, could see Melbourne take on Manly, Roosters take on Sharks and finally the Broncos and Eels doing battle in week one, with the two lowest placed losers eliminated.

    Yes, that’s right, if both Melbourne and the Roosters are upset in week one, I’m prepared to see them eliminated; this is the NRL, not backyard footy.

    That reduces the competition to four teams, essentially bringing the preliminary finals forward a week, the winners advancing to the decider.

    I’ve never been a fan of teams getting a second chance in the finals. I know they should be rewarded for great seasons, but the reward is that they head into the business end of the season in top form, and will be very hard to beat.

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