The NRL draw is a shambles and opens the door for unwelcome suspicion that favouritism exists.
There are the influences of both supposed random choice and media seeking to show the ‘more attractive’ games, but the end result defies any logic. Some clubs are faced with the prospect of playing against the stronger clubs not once, but twice in their first handful of games.
Tigers play the Storm twice by Round 5? What?
The Roosters, one club that attracts the stench of favouritism too easily, has:
• Arguably the easiest draw, with only the Sharks (from 2017 top eight) in the first nine rounds.
• Both the Dogs and Warriors twice in the first ten rounds, teams many predict to be in the bottom four in 2018.
• The least travel distance over the year.
There is a sensible way to create a fair draw as well as recognising the differing dynamics between traditional Sydney teams and the one team cities.
The Sydney teams have long been the foundation block of the league. Shifting populations, ethnic diversity and pressure from other sports, however, have made the retention and development of junior leagues as well as supporter base a constant challenge.
Boundaries are close, conflict tribalism is strong and travel to enemy grounds is relatively short and easy.
This is vastly different from the ‘one team’ city where junior programmes are for their local team, the fortress mentality is generally stronger and ‘our home ground’ has a definitive meaning.
There has been a suggestion, in the past, that the draw should be divided into two groups (to avoid a too long season of 30 rounds). The Sydney/one city team split allows for this while still keeping competitive standards.
Groups A and B are fairly evenly represented from the 2017 ladder. It also opens the door for an equitable competition devoid of manipulation which can improve one team’s chances while hurting another.
The ‘Sydney teams’ group has nine clubs: Roosters, Eels, Sharks, Sea Eagles, Panthers, Dragons, Bulldogs, Rabbitohs and Wests-Tigers.
The ‘one team cities’ have seven: Storm, Broncos, Cowboys, Raiders, Warriors, Titans and Knights.
One team each year is selected to represent ‘Sydney’ in Group B (until expansion occurs and there are eight or more). This should be done by random draw or in turns considering the expense of travel rather than a position on the previous year ladder.
In the first and last seven rounds of the draw Groups A and B face off within their group, home and away. The middle eight rounds teams in A and B crossover, home and away need to be calculated so there is an even 4/4 spread.
You now have a manageable 22 round competition before finals, with a fair spread of teams facing each other. The differing city dynamics are catered for and even allows for a slightly reduced season for player welfare.
While this may be far from perfect, it is a far better than the contrived and exploitable rubbish that is currently being delivered.