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

Adam Bagnall Roar Pro

By Adam Bagnall, Adam Bagnall is a Roar Pro

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34 Have your say

    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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    The Crowd Says (34)

    • Roar Guru

      September 5th 2017 @ 7:27am
      Magnus M. Østergaard said | September 5th 2017 @ 7:27am | ! Report

      I find it funny that your 2 key examples for the need of a top 6 came in Salary cap punishment affected years. Dragons 2002 (Bulldogs) and only a 15 team comp and Titans 2016 (Eels).

      I also find it funny that you think a 14-10 is pretty impressive but a 13-11 is pathetic?

      To add weight to your argument you then suggest using probably the worst Top 6 finals formula you could have.

      I dont see the point in reducing it to a Top 6. Perhaps if you wanted to ensure that there are no teams with a less than 50% win/loss record implement a Top 7.

      • September 5th 2017 @ 8:23am
        Adam Bagnall said | September 5th 2017 @ 8:23am | ! Report

        Appreciate your feedback Vincent, 14-10 is a reasonably consistent season, whereas 13-11 is a bit hit and miss, but I see your point as there is only one win difference. and as for the make-up of the finals, it was just an idea I threw out there, the bottom line is that a top 6 would be much more competitive rather than gifting teams finals spots, only to see them eliminated in week 1. A top 7 would be better than the current system, but how would you handle the extra team, you would have three games and then a team has a week off? I don’t know too many team that would like a week off to open the finals, most would like to get out there and make a statement, perhaps the minor premiers get a week off, but then they wouldn’t have played in a long while come week 2 of the finals.

        • Roar Guru

          September 5th 2017 @ 12:01pm
          Magnus M. Østergaard said | September 5th 2017 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

          Why dont we just take it all the way to first past the post and not have a finals series? I wouldnt have a clue how a top 7 will work tbh just throiwng them out there. I dont have a problem with the current top 8 and I havent seen any reasonable arguments to even consider changing it.

        • September 6th 2017 @ 1:06pm
          Jara W said | September 6th 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

          One win?!? Hard to put too much weight on gauging a teams success based on that. The draw is uneven. “Success” could be achieved as simply as not playing Melbourne at home.

          The Origin period, not playing every team twice, turnarounds. Really you could argue positions on the NRL ladder are subjective. And I’d say Top 8 is a great tolerance for that.

          • Roar Guru

            September 7th 2017 @ 6:46am
            The Barry said | September 7th 2017 @ 6:46am | ! Report

            Great comment Jara…

    • September 5th 2017 @ 7:53am
      Swannies said | September 5th 2017 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      The final five pre 1995 used to work very well. Reward minor premiers with week 1 rest and sudden death for 4 and 5. If you finish 6 or lower you don’t deserve to be playing finals. But it will never happen because of $$$

      • September 5th 2017 @ 8:27am
        Adam Bagnall said | September 5th 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        1995 was just around the time I started watching league so don’t remember too much of that season, but top 5 would be great, ensuring only the very best make the finals, probably would need 15 wins to get in. Agree re $, more teams making the finals means more money, even if it rewards mediocrity. Panthers qualify on the back of consecutive losses.

      • September 5th 2017 @ 1:31pm
        Big Daddy said | September 5th 2017 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

        Amen to that.

    • Roar Guru

      September 5th 2017 @ 8:31am
      The Barry said | September 5th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      VH got in first re the difference between 14-10 and 13-11 seasons.

      First and foremost the NRL won’t do anything that reduces games and therefore TV revenue. Why would they?

      The teams in the bottom half and in particular 7th and 8th usually don’t go far anyway. If they do it’s got that fairytale feel to it which is good. It happens rarely enough to make it interesting and not be a problem.

      To be honest Adam this article feels a bit salty. I don’t think it would have been written on the train from ANZ if the Dragons had snuck home against the Dogs.

      • September 5th 2017 @ 11:02am
        Adam said | September 5th 2017 @ 11:02am | ! Report

        Incorrect, my opinion on the finals set up has been around well before Sundays game, its just not a good look when half the teams make the finals. Agree that bottom two teams rarely advance, which begs the question why are they there in the first place? Once again the almighty $ rules out over common sense that’s why there are so many games each year, 3 Origins instead of just one which would make more sense and the list goes on. Thanks for the feedback

        • September 5th 2017 @ 11:08am
          Mushi said | September 5th 2017 @ 11:08am | ! Report

          Why does one origin make “more sense”?

          • September 5th 2017 @ 11:52am
            Adam said | September 5th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

            A one off contest that doesn’t disrupt half the season and we get it over and done with. Clubs are given a raw deal atm with their best players away for extended periods and they get beaten by weaker teams. Just my opinion, but too much money in Origin for them to reduce it to one game

            • Roar Guru

              September 5th 2017 @ 11:59am
              Magnus M. Østergaard said | September 5th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

              As a Cowboys fan, we lose them for maybe just 1 game next year with only another 1 being affected by a short turnaround. Im not worried at all. Morgan played 23/24 games this regular season.

        • Roar Guru

          September 5th 2017 @ 11:32am
          The Barry said | September 5th 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

          “Once again the almighty $ rules out over common sense”

          …is only true if we accept your position is the only one that makes sense.

          To me it makes complete sense to keep more fans invested in the regular season and semi finals for longer as opposed to having fewer teams involved for… reasons.

          If teams in 7 or 8 were regularly winning the comp then I’d agree the system is flawed but they don’t.

          They provide the odd fairytale deep run which is good for the game. A lot of neutral fans got behind the Warriors in 11 and the Eels in 09. That’s as much a ‘common sense’ reason as a financial one.

          Across your comments you’ve mentioned having fewer semi finals, only one origin game and fewer regular season games. All well and good if you want to hand back about $500M of TV revenue. I’m glad you’re not running the NRL.

          But what I love best with these pie in the sky suggestions (and I’m not suggesting you’ve done this Adam) is when punters then have a crack at the NRL for having no idea.

          “Come on NRL, you haven’t implemented a single one of my common sense ideas! What do you blokes do all day. It only took me ten minutes to think of that!”

          Finally, I highly doubt that if your team the Dragons gets a win on Sunday and makes the eight with a last gasp win, that you’re planning an article on the train home about there only being six teams in the semis.

          • September 5th 2017 @ 11:54am
            Adam said | September 5th 2017 @ 11:54am | ! Report

            As I’ve previously said here my thoughts are independent of Sundays result. Ive long thought that an 8 team finals system isnt great. I’m not saying my ideas are necessarily the best but they are just my opinion

    • September 5th 2017 @ 9:46am
      Sharkattack said | September 5th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

      Two edged sword. Top 5 is the best finals system there is in terms of fairness, but when you have 16 teams, at the end of the year there are too many dead rubbers.

      • September 5th 2017 @ 11:03am
        Adam said | September 5th 2017 @ 11:03am | ! Report

        Agree. Way too many dead games over the last few weeks must be tough for fans of the Knights, Tigers, etc knowing they aren’t on contention for the finals. I’d also argue for a 20 round season with no byes, but that’s another story

        • Roar Guru

          September 5th 2017 @ 12:22pm
          Nat said | September 5th 2017 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

          Over the last few weeks, the only interesting points of discussion were around who were going to fill out from 2 to 8. Given a particular result or scoreline, either Broncos, Parra or Easts could have dropped into the bottom 4 While Knights and Wests games were dead rubbers, Raiders, Saints, NQ and Panthers fans were on egde – right up to 6pm Sunday. Surely, as a spectacle, the more teams and fans invested leading up too and into the finals is more attractive on the whole?

          • September 5th 2017 @ 3:02pm
            Albo said | September 5th 2017 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

            I am happy with the current top 8 system. Particularly this year when there is only a couple of wins difference between 7 of the 8 teams and the competition was alive till the 2nd last game on Sunday. It keeps more interest for more clubs right to the end of the season. Sure the bottom half rarely progress past week 2, but I am not so sure that will be the norm this year. If you don’t have a top 8, I’m not sure why we would bother with a finals series at all ? Just have premiers as first past the post ? But then risk losing a lot of interest early in the season if a team like the Storm dominate like this year.

    • Roar Guru

      September 5th 2017 @ 11:27am
      Wayne Lovell said | September 5th 2017 @ 11:27am | ! Report

      I love the top 8 system it’s great, it will be even better with an 18 team competition

      • Roar Guru

        September 5th 2017 @ 11:35am
        The Barry said | September 5th 2017 @ 11:35am | ! Report


        Central Coast Bears and splitting the Magpies and the Tigers back out to single entities.

        Has to happen…?

        • Roar Guru

          September 5th 2017 @ 12:03pm
          Magnus M. Østergaard said | September 5th 2017 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

          West of Sydney Magpies (Perth) and North of Sydney Bears (Brisbane) perhaps TB?

        • Roar Guru

          September 5th 2017 @ 12:29pm
          Wayne Lovell said | September 5th 2017 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

          I’m not taking your bait today Baz?

          • Roar Guru

            September 5th 2017 @ 12:44pm
            The Barry said | September 5th 2017 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

            Booooo!!! ?

            Hope you’re well and good luck for the semis!

        • Roar Rookie

          September 5th 2017 @ 4:53pm
          William Dalton Davis said | September 5th 2017 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

          Not before Glebe and the Newtown Jets.

    • September 5th 2017 @ 9:58pm
      Kilgore Trout said | September 5th 2017 @ 9:58pm | ! Report

      The top 8 finals system is probably one of the things in the NRL that doesn’t need changing . Anything that keeps more teams and fans interested for longer is a good thing . History shows that it’s all about making the top 4 anyway . The quality rises and as a bonus , plenty of players get finals experience that will serve them well down the track . Implementing a relegation system however , would really up the ante …. but in a limited marketplace it’s never going to happen . It would be a way for the Bears to get back into the NRL though . Glebe and Newtown as well !

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