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How to end the luck of the draw in the NRL

How do we create a conference system fair for the non-Sydney sides? (Anthony Johnson copyright © nrlphotos.com)
Roar Guru
19th June, 2015
27

Every season we go through the talk of the NRL draw not being fair, as fans of one team battling for a spot in the eight feel aggrieved that another team had an easier run.

The fairest solution would be for all teams to play each other twice, but the length of the season would make it too difficult. Cutting games is an option, but the money from media rights will be lost.

The best solution is to create two conferences.

Traditionalists will be up in arms, saying that the game has been one ladder for over 100 years. Well, the one ladder can go the way of unlimited tackle counts, competitive scrums, the five-metre rule and the North Sydney Bears. Two conferences will produce a fair draw and give the fans more of the games they want.

The structure will be 2 eight-team conferences. Each team plays their own conference twice per season, and the other conference once (four games at home, four away) for a 22-match season.

There have been a few ideas as to the conference make-ups by different people, mostly revolving around one conference of just Sydney teams and one of the rest, but that’s unfair from a travel perspective.

Another is last season’s top eight in one conference, and the bottom eight in another. But that’s basing this year’s schedule on lasts year’s results, and penalising teams for success.

The conference make-up suggested here is based on fan-bases, rivalries and geography, and the final series is fair.

Conference A consists of the remaining foundation clubs – Roosters, Souths and Wests Tigers. Enough has been said about the Souths/Rooster rivalry over the years, and there is history also between Souths and the Tigers. A traditional rivalry going back to the 50s exists between St George, Souths and Wests. With the Anzac Day match between the Roosters and the Dragons an annual match-up, the Dragons are naturals to join Conference A. If St George are there, then the Sharks can join them also.

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The three Queensland teams will need to stay together, so by adding them to Conference A it brings that to eight teams. That also gives those five Sydney teams three set interstate road matches each seasons.

Conference A
Sydney Roosters
South Sydney
Wests Tigers
St George Illawarra Dragons
Cronulla Sharks
Brisbane Broncos
North Queensland Cowboys
Gold Coast Titans

Conference B starts with Manly, and their rivalry with Parramatta. Parramatta’s other 80s rival is the Bulldogs. Fans of all three teams would enjoy meeting the others twice per season. Penrith also joins this conference to grow the local derby with Parramatta.

With the Newcastle Knights’ grand final victories coming over Manly and Parramatta, they join B. The Melbourne Storm are naturals for Conference B, with recent grand final match-ups against Manly, Parramatta and the Bulldogs. New Zealand Warriors and Canberra are added also, giving the Sydney teams in Conference B an interstate and an overseas match, and two out-of-town matches.

Conference B
Manly Sea Eagles
Melbourne Storm
Canterbury Bulldogs
Parramatta Eels
Penrith Panthers
New Zealand Warriors
Newcastle Knights
Canberra Raiders

Scheduling is basic. Using the Roosters as an example, they play the other seven teams in their conference each season on a home-and-away basis (14 games). The first year they will play Parramatta, Bulldogs, Melbourne and Canberra at home, and the remainder of Conference B away. The following year it is flipped, with the Roosters playing Parramatta, Bulldogs, Melbourne and Canberra away, and the others at home.

Fans would like this format as it gives them their rivalry/derby matches twice a year, every team will get 11 of the 15 teams at home in a season, and the other four teams once every two seasons.

The simple finals solution is to have the top four from each conference play off in a 1 vs 4, 2 vs 3 format. However, we may fall into the situation where one conference may be perceived as stronger than the other in a particular season, and the fifth placed team of the stronger conference may feel aggrieved over missing out to a weaker fourth placed team.

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One of the biggest issues at present is there are many teams with nothing to play for at the end of the season. Teams may battle to avoid the spoon, but what about teams 10 to 14 on the ladder? What is their motivation late in the season? Can’t run last, can’t make the eight, so how do we keep the fans of these teams engaged?

The best solution is to play the finals over four weeks, with all teams involved. A simple bracket, seeded like typical tennis tournament, with 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6 and 4 vs 5. This format gives all teams something to aim for right up to the end of the season. Week 1 gives us eight matches, Week 2 has four matches, Week 3 just the two, with Week 4 being the grand final.