Next year, the Rugby Football League – the governing body of the British game – has decided to give teams in the second-tier Championship and third-tier League 1 a point each in the case of a draw, as I would assume they have since 1895, and then let them play on in golden point time for another point.
This is not a new idea. The benefit of sharing one’s thoughts on Twitter before writing a column is that I was informed by one knowledgable chap that they did this for seven years in Group Four in New South Wales Country Rugby League. Or maybe it was four years in Group Seven.
But there are some very sound mathematical and integrity-related reasons why it has not been adopted more widely.
The chief among these is that golden point games are now, in the Championship and League 1, worth more points than every other game. There are three competition points up for grabs in these matches, compared with two in every other match.
To spell this out for people who are, like me, mathematically challenged: teams who play in ten golden point games will share 30 points, teams who play in ten regular matches will share 20 points.
Group one has an advantage over group two – even though the intention was not to make these games more important and to give group one this advantage.
In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite: golden point had its critics when introduced in Super League and the RFL could therefore be assumed to be trying to water it down – but in fact they are making golden point games more desirable and significant.
There is now a pronounced incentive to be involved in them.
Teams who played in more golden point games will, generally, finish above those who played in none – because they will hand out an extra point in these matches. I know I’m labouring the point but fans generally look at a game as an isolated unit and think if it’s fair within a game, it’s fair.
Even a tweeter who argued with me vociferously over all this admitted that the make-up of the NRL finals in 2019 would have been altered had this system been in force, with the Wests Tigers in and the Broncos out.
One popular defence of what is a mathematically flawed system was that bonus points have been going in the round-ball code of football for yonks.
But bonus points are handed out for competitively desirable reasons – more goals, away wins etc. Is it the object of rugby league to finish 80 minutes even? Is that what we play for?
No, but we are going to reward it anyway.
I’m not smart enough to suggest a way this new system could be exploited every week by a coach but certainly you would have to think a tied game with five minutes to go is more likely to stay a tied game if there is a consolation prize for finishing the match as the loser.
Just don’t be behind at the 80-minute mark.
Golden point is nothing more than a gimmick. But, as I’ve said before, getting rid of the breakaways was a gimmick in 1907. Almost everything we do is a gimmick designed to entertain. I’m no big fan of golden point and I’m not a hater, either.
But there is a lack of understanding that golden point is supposed to be unfair. It’s supposed to be heartbreaking.
The NRL is in the business of entertaining, not being fair to well-paid players. Golden point comes from the same place as the now-defunct Million Pound Game. Toronto won a fake MPG this year – there was no jeopardy. The concept is deliberately cruel because people love watching cruelty on TV!
The British game, with its folksy northern roots and I-know-all-the-players-personally niceness, can’t quite bring itself to be so ruthless. And in League 1 and the Championship, players are part time. This was one of the things about the MPG that made people cringe: that the players might be out of a job if they lost.
So everyone getting a prize is considered more in keeping with the culture and economics at play than competitive integrity. I guess you can say fair enough.
The other point made by my British colleagues is that the draws are hopelessly skewed anyway. The teams do not play each other once or twice or three times – they just pull fixtures out of their backsides that will make money at the gate.
Summer Bash and Magic Weekend are most often just made up of games that bear no relation to the draw but do count on the table. If you historically draw well against team X, we’ll have you play team X four times to help fill your coffers!
And that is an open and shut case in favour of the new system. That arguments wins.
When it comes to degrees of expedient daftness, you stop counting after a while.