McIntyre System to live in dark recesses of NRL history

Chris Chard Columnist

By Chris Chard, Chris Chard is a Roar Expert

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    The bittersweet realisation that a grand final win can only be followed by a slide down the ladder. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

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    Kenneth Gordon McIntyre OBE was a man of many talents: author, lawyer, politician, historian, mathematician. It is with some shame, then, that his legacy in Australian popular culture appears to be inextricably linked with that of a maligned rugby league finals system.

    And by maligned, I mean intensely despised.

    Much like the night time Grand Finals that sent millions of small children to bed in tears at half time, the McIntyre finals system was a phenomena that appeared to only have the support of a powerful minority.

    Here was a finals system so unloved that in its demise it had become the flatulent, native fauna eating, one-eared tom cat that nobody in the neighbourhood wanted to claim ownership of.

    This can be seen by the press reports this week, all seemingly flick passing and handballing ownership of the system.

    The papers have spoken of the NRL from 2012 adopting the ‘AFL’s final system,’ by which of course they mean the 95 ARL finals system.

    In turn the NRL has dumped ‘it’s’ McIntyre system, despite the fact that the AFL and the VFL had in the past used versions of McIntyre previous to the NRL adopting it. For the casual sports fan, it’s all a bit confusing.

    Fitting, as confusion seemed to be the overwhelming reaction to the McIntyre system. Many a frustrating September was spent rehashing the finals framework to inattentive work colleagues, trying to explain what next week’s games would be.

    To which the only true answer was that ‘you’ll have to wait and see’.

    This was an annoyance for spectators, but must have been a logistical and psychological nightmare for players and coaches.

    Even the most cynical fan would have to feel sorry for the 3rd-6th placed losing sides, sitting around a TV at the leagues club following their match not knowing whether they should be ripping into training, or ripping into a carton of cold beers and fancy dress clothes.

    Sports fans, by and large, crave simplicity, and rugby league can lay claim to being one of the simplest games of all. But, to be simple is to be great, and taking your finals system from a former mathematician who liked to explore Portuguese naval history in his spare time is probably over complicating things a little bit.

    This is not to say intelligent minds should be driven away from rugby league. It’s just that, as lifelong Manly fan and world renowned author Thomas Keneally learned after the lukewarm reception to his ‘Blow that Whistle’ television ad, sometimes you just have to give the proles what we want.

    So Mr McIntyre, on behalf of the rugby league fraternity, I would like to acknowledge your very successful life and crazy Portuguese conspiracy theories.

    You were indeed a man who succeeded in many fields.

    However, for mine, your finals system will serve a special place in the dark recesses of my rugby league memory, and will keep good company their with unlimited interchange, the 1997 NSW Origin jerseys and Wollongong Showground greyhound track.

    And it looks to me like this time, the fans have beaten the system.

    Chris Chard
    Chris Chard

    Chris Chard is a sports humour writer commenting on the often absurd nature of professional sport. A rugby league fan boy with a good blend of youth and experience taking things one week at a time, Chris has written for The Roar since 2011. Tweet him @Vic_Arious

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    The Crowd Says (57)

    • February 24th 2012 @ 9:02am
      Ben of Sydney said | February 24th 2012 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      I agree, If you came third, had some 50/50 calls go against you, and lost to a field goal in extra time you could have been bundled out in the first round…. That was never fair.

      I think the best part about going back to the 90s system is the guarantee of seeing the best teams over the year play each other in the first round (1v4, 2v3)…. Last year that would have been Storm v Tigers, and Manly v Brisbane….. Instead we got Storm v Knights, Manly v Cowboys (infront of 12,000), and Brisbane v NZ (thrashing), Tigers Dragons was ok but only because they were adjacent on the ladder…

    • Columnist

      February 24th 2012 @ 9:15am
      Brett McKay said | February 24th 2012 @ 9:15am | ! Report

      ChrisVic, I’ve realised this week that I was clearly in the miniscule minority who didn’t mind the McIntyre System. I get all the arguments about not enough advantage for 3rd and 4th, and all that, but for mine, it was a system that place emphasis on winning in the first week – which should be the goal once you reach the finals – and proved that anyone within the top 8 was a genuine chance at the title. The only critics seemed to be first week losers who’d already blown their home ground advantage!

      I can live with the new system, but there won’t be anywhere near the unpredictability of the McIntyre format. Remember, no AFL team outside the top four has made the GF under this format…

      • February 24th 2012 @ 10:33am
        stillmatic1 said | February 24th 2012 @ 10:33am | ! Report

        i think the complaints were more from the 2nd week losers, brett. remember the warriors got thumped in week one, only to make it through, whilst the tigers won in week one and got bundled out against the first round loser. if it is supposed to be about winning, then the warriors in all fairness and common sense should have gone after the first week.

        this scenario notwithstanding benji marshall throwing the game away in the last minute v the warriors and creating the basis of the discussion!

        • Columnist

          February 24th 2012 @ 10:49am
          Brett McKay said | February 24th 2012 @ 10:49am | ! Report

          there’s been numerous cases of teams in 3rd or 4th losing home finals in the first week, and complaining up a storm about having to play away in the second week, though. That was certainly a common criticism in the last few years..

      • February 24th 2012 @ 10:52am
        Will Sinclair said | February 24th 2012 @ 10:52am | ! Report

        Brett… Seriously?

        A real life example:

        In 2005 the 4th placed Tigers played the 5th placed Cowboys in Week One of the Finals. The Tigers won by 50 points – and that’s not an exaggeration, they actually won by 50 points.

        Not only did the Cowboys then go on to make the Grand Final – a ridiculous concept in its own right – but in Week Two, they played a sudden death game against Melbourne, while the Tigers – who beat them by 50 points, let’s not forget that – ALSO PLAYED A SUDDEN DEATH GAME IN WEEK TWO. This time against Brisbane.

        At that point, anyone with any sense at all would have known the McIntyre System was dead and buried. Quite how it survived another 6 years I will never know.

        • February 24th 2012 @ 11:27am
          Gareth said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:27am | ! Report

          So, how would you fix it? Rank the teams for Week Two according to for and against in Week One? The fourth placed Tigers had to win a sudden death game in Week Two because Parramatta (1st) and St-George (2nd) also won their Week One finals, making them 3rd from 4 winners. Should every team that wins in week one get a free ride to week three ? Who plays in week two?

          Under the current system, the 2005 Tigers would have a harder game against the first placed team (keep in mind this is purely theoretical and doesn’t account for the Dragons and Eels woeful performances in finals series) that they’d be expected to lose, and then they’d be up against sudden death in week two anyway.

          The way I see it, the new system guarantees two home games for the Top 4, but also means 3rd and 4th have a much tougher draw. Likewise, the bottom half of the eight gets easier games, but only a single home game for 6th and 7th.

          I don’t think it will have a great impact on how things play out, it just makes the underdog stories a bit less compelling.

          • February 24th 2012 @ 11:34am
            Gareth said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:34am | ! Report

            Actually, you know what? Basing Week Two games around for and against might not be a bad thing. If nothing else, it’d encourage aggressive attacking football. On the downside, we’d have to tolerate teams who spent the whole season grinding out boring rugby union-esque victories whinging about how the new system is unfair.

          • February 24th 2012 @ 1:29pm
            Will Sinclair said | February 24th 2012 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

            How would you fix it?

            The new system DOES fix it. Finish 5th, lose in Week One…. GOOOOOOOOONNNNNE.

            That’s exactly as it should be.

            Not, finish 5th, get flogged in Week One… oh well, have another crack boys! You deserve it!

            • February 24th 2012 @ 5:08pm
              Gareth said | February 24th 2012 @ 5:08pm | ! Report

              Yeah, but would the Warriors have lost in Week one with a home game against a lower ranked side? The difference I see is that:

              Coming 6th under the McIntyre System:

              Pros – Get a second chance *if* 7th and 8th both lose
              Cons – Play away against 3rd placed team

              Coming 6th under the new system:

              Pros – Home game against lesser opposition
              Cons – No second chance

              It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. Given the choice, I’d rather play 7th place at home under threat of sudden death than play 3rd place away with *the chance* of staying alive if we lost.

              I’m predicting that come September, whoever comes fourth will lose to whoever came first, and everyone will whinge and moan that they go into week 2 off a loss against a 5th-8th team coming off a win.

        • Columnist

          February 24th 2012 @ 11:43am
          Brett McKay said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:43am | ! Report

          Will, it clearly had its flaws – the old-but-new-again system will have flaws identified over time too – but it was deemed to be a suitable system for two major football codes who used it for the best part of twenty years between them. I’m not saying it was perfect, but it also obviously worked pretty well. The amount of vitriol that’s come out in the last week has been well over the top…

          • February 24th 2012 @ 1:31pm
            Will Sinclair said | February 24th 2012 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

            The only flaw with the new system is that it’s the Top 8 and not the Top 5.

            • February 25th 2012 @ 11:16pm
              Queensland's game is rugby league said | February 25th 2012 @ 11:16pm | ! Report

              I think they do that for revenue. A top 8 system allows for a total of four games to be played during the first week. Broadcasters love that.

      • February 24th 2012 @ 11:03am
        Renegade said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:03am | ! Report

        I’m with you Brett, i didn’t mind the Mcintyre system….the unpredictability made it compulsory for teams to win games in Week 1.

        That being said, i don’t mind the new format either although the 1v4 and 2v3 games in week 1 aren’t going to be as great as everyone thinks they are going to be.

      • February 24th 2012 @ 11:03am
        Gareth said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:03am | ! Report

        I was never really against it either, but maybe that’s because it seemed to favour the underdog, and the Raiders always seem to just scrape into the eight. Well, every second year anyway.

        In reality, I think it’s a bit of a scapegoat. On paper, the top four teams should comfortably account for the bottom four, particularly in the 1 vs 8 and 2 vs 7 matchups. The fact that we’ve had plenty of upsets in recent years is more a testament to the closeness of the competition and the importance of mental strength.

        With the exception of the Warriors upsetting the Storm in 2008, most of those “upset” victories have been against teams that have overperformed early in the season and limped into the finals, like when the Eels disposed of the Dragons in 2009, or when the Raiders did enough against a busted Panthers side.

        I don’t really see why Tigers fans are so upset about last year. Was it because the Warriors lost emphaticly the week before and so they thought an easy win was on the cards? Is it because the Dragons and Warriors got a second chance after losses in the first week?

        It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out this year.

        • February 24th 2012 @ 1:51pm
          Pete75 said | February 24th 2012 @ 1:51pm | ! Report


          “I don’t really see why Tigers fans are so upset about last year. Was it because the Warriors lost emphaticly the week before and so they thought an easy win was on the cards”

          No. It was because they lost emphatically in the first week and that should have been the end of their season.

          It shouldn’t be too hard to work out why Tigers fans were upset. They got knocked out by a team that finished well below them in the regular season, who lost in the first week of the finals, and then got to play them at a neutral venue. The question Tigers fans asked was why bother finishing in the top four of you can be beaten and knocked out by a team that finished lower and lost in the first week? Where was the advantage to actually winning finals matches?

          Pretty simple.

          The new system ensures that if you finish fifth to eighth and lose in the first week, you’re on Mad Monday.

          As it should.

          It also ensures that if you finish one to four, you get a week off, then play for a shot at the grand final.

          As it should.

          It ensures that if you finish one to four you get a second shot if you lose first week.

          As it should.

          And it ensures that if you finish five to eight and win the first week, you

          Basically, it rewards those teams most who have performed best through the regular season with the greatest advantage.

          As it should.

          • February 24th 2012 @ 5:00pm
            Gareth said | February 24th 2012 @ 5:00pm | ! Report

            Okay, but ultimately if the Tigers wanted a Grand Final berth, they should have done what Brisbane did the week before and given the Warriors a flogging. By the new system, they would have had to play Melbourne in Melbourne, and given they lost their regular season game against them at Leichhardt – that seems like a big ask. How is an away game against the Minor Premiers a reward for coming fourth when compared to a home game against the team who came fifth?

            In the Second week, they get to play the 6th placed team *at home* (albeit with a caveat that the home ground must meet certain standards). I get the frustration, but don’t think they were grossly disadvantaged. Under the new system – *in theory* they would have lost to the more favoured Storm in Week one, and come up against the Warriors who *in theory* should have easily accounted for the Cowboys at home. And they’re in the exact same position of having to beat the Warriors to stay alive.

            Both systems have their merits and reward the Top four in different ways – and no matter what system you have, there will always be upsetting resuults in finals footy.

      • February 24th 2012 @ 11:05am
        Ken said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:05am | ! Report

        I’m with you Brett, didn’t mind the McIntyre. It had some flaws like the ‘switching partners’ routine in week 2 which, if results went to plan, basically gave no benefit to the middle teams regardless of whether they won or lost in week 1. Then again, the new/old system also has some less impressive aspects, notably in the first round where team 4 has to play away to team 1, while team 5 gets to play at home against team 8. If the seeds fall as expected both will be playing in week 2, team 4 off a loss, team 5 off a win, with momentum being a powerful force in the finals who’s really getting the benefit there?

        Of course, as you note, if you win games then it really doesn’t matter which finals system you’re using which is why I’m not overly fussed either way.

      • Roar Guru

        February 24th 2012 @ 12:59pm
        The Barry said | February 24th 2012 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

        Brett, I think no one outside the AFL top 4 winning the comp has more to do with the gap between the top couple of teams in the AFL and the rest. The NRL has a much more even top 8. Hence the Collingwoods and Geelongs constantly being $1.10 – $1.20 faves each week.

        The recent finals runs of dark horse teams like Parra in 09 and the Roosters in 10 would be made “easier” by not having to meet teams in the Top 4 in week 1 of the finals. Theoretically we should be getting more teams through from 7 and 8.

    • Roar Guru

      February 24th 2012 @ 9:30am
      Mark Young said | February 24th 2012 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      “so unloved that in its demise it had become the flatulent, native fauna eating, one-eared tom cat that nobody in the neighbourhood wanted to claim ownership of”

      Some of your best work Chris. Outstanding turn of phrase!

      I agree with Brett in the sense that if you make the finals, and lose games…. you only have yourself to blame.
      But having siad that, the new system will be better.

      I disliked how random that first weekend was when you really had no idea what was going to happen. The blokes you lost on Friday night had a nightmare couple of days to endure.
      At least now, in every game, the losing team and their fans knows if they’re out, or if they have a second chance.

    • February 24th 2012 @ 9:40am
      sheek said | February 24th 2012 @ 9:40am | ! Report

      I resent the way the McIntyre system has been trashed.

      McIntyre was an exceptionally talented individual. At least he was clever enough to think these things up in the first place. And there were many variations & improvements. Made life a lot easier for the rest of us imbeciles.

      Don’t blame the McIntyre system, blame the dunderheads who allowed this version of ‘final 8’ to perpetrate for so long without anyone being smart enough to see it’s flaws & suggest an alternative.

      • February 24th 2012 @ 1:33pm
        Andrew said | February 24th 2012 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

        Actually the system they are moving to was also invented by McIntyre, So essentially it is still the McIntyre system!

        • Columnist

          February 24th 2012 @ 5:26pm
          Chris Chard said | February 24th 2012 @ 5:26pm | ! Report

          MCintyre 2.0? McIntyre deluxe? McIntyre S? McIntyre Plus?

      • February 28th 2012 @ 7:24am
        Kim Crawford said | February 28th 2012 @ 7:24am | ! Report

        In 1994, before the McIntyre System had been used by the AFL, I sent them a list of the flaws that could (and eventually did) occur using this system. I also sent them my Crawford Final 8 System as a better alternative, then in 1995 I sent it to the ARL who were about to introduce their own final 8 which was also seriously flawed. The ARL switched to my system just weeks before the start of their 1996 finals series ( I had been writing to them and the clubs for nearly 2 years) then stopped using it because of the Super league split. The AFL introduced my system in 2000, the same year that the NRL made the staggering decision to take on the McIntyre System that had so badly failed in the AFL. After years of anguish the NRL has now reintroduced my system. Funny how both of these National Sporting Leagues claimed my Crawford Final 8 System as their own when they realised that it was the best available and they needed to use it. Prior to this they were thanking me for my efforts but telling me my system would not work effectively. Time has proved them wrong, now it would be nice for both Leagues to be honest and admit the true origin of this system. That would be the decent thing to do. Let’s see if they have the moral and ethical “balls” to do the right thing.

    • February 24th 2012 @ 10:19am
      matt said | February 24th 2012 @ 10:19am | ! Report

      There’s a new system? How does it work?

    • Roar Guru

      February 24th 2012 @ 11:11am
      peeeko said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:11am | ! Report

      Good to see the back of a system where the 6th placed team loses 40-10 in week 1 and the makes the GF (warriors 2011)

      • Roar Guru

        February 24th 2012 @ 1:04pm
        The Barry said | February 24th 2012 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

        Everyone keeps bringing up margins of 40-10, 50 points, etc as if they have any relevance.

        It doesn’t matter under either system how many points a team loses by, it’s the result only that counts whether the team progresses.

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