This week Phil Gould raised the idea of introducing two new clubs into the NRL to create two conferences of nine clubs each.
The key to the idea is to have the nine Sydney clubs in one conference, with the nine out-of-Sydney clubs in another.
This idea is not new. In fact, I wrote about this idea back in 2012.
However, I wanted to discuss some of the unique benefits this idea presents, beyond simply introducing another match each week plus new teams in, most likely, Brisbane and Perth.
So what are the benefits?
Three grand finals
The conference finals system introduces two new grad finals, which could generate significant new revenue for the NRL.
The out-of-Sydney conference decider would be played at Suncorp Stadium. Brisbane deserves a grand final, and this would a guaranteed sell-out every year.
The Sydney conference grand final would need to be played in Sydney. The new SFS would be ideal, recognising that crowds may be an issue in the Harbour City, potentially hosting two grand finals in two weeks.
Ideally, with the introduction of a new Sydney grand final, I would take the NRL decider on the road, rotating around all the major cities with a club.
Four more finals games
Five teams would compete in each conference’s finals series.
This would create 13 finals matches (including the three grand finals) compared to the nine post-season matches currently played.
More Sydney derby games
The conference system would create a total of 64 derby matches in Sydney. In my 2012 article, I stated that there was a 6000 average attendance increase for Sydney derbies compared to games between Sydney and non-Sydney clubs.
If the NRL mandated reciprocal membership rights, a Sydney club member would be guaranteed to see their club play in 16 derby games in Sydney each year.
Promoting the game outside Sydney
The conference format benefits Sydney clubs with less travel and more access to visiting supporters.
To counter this benefit, out-of-Sydney conference clubs would get 13 home games, compared to the 12 that the Sydney clubs would get.
The NRL could also mandate that the Sydney clubs take three of their home games against non-Sydney clubs on the road with one game for the Magic Round, one game in a regional centre, and one game in double headers played in Adelaide, Wellington or Christchurch.
So how could this work in detail?
Unlike the American systems, where conferences play completely separately, there would be a regular-season match between all clubs at least once.
Each team to play the eight other clubs in their conference twice and the nine teams in the other conference once, resulting in 25 rounds, with a mid-season break of four weeks for the representative period.