As was pondered by two of the great philosophers of the 20th century and beyond, Bill S Preston, esquire and “Ted” Theodore Logan, Wyld Stallyns will never be a super band until we have Eddie Van Halen on guitar.
But they will never get Eddie Van Halen to join the band until they are most triumphant.
And so it goes with the NRL in its bid to get teams to care about the minor premiership.
Nobody will particularly care about receiving the JJ Giltinan Shield until there’s extra incentive attached to the trophy in the way of playoff benefits or huge cash incentives.
But the NRL will not cough up big dollars to reward first past the post or change their finals format anytime soon so the current lack of genuine prestige will remain surrounding the minor premiership.
The prizemoney has been doubled this year to $200,000. It could be doubled again and most clubs probably still wouldn’t prioritise it over resting players when an all-important top-two berth is wrapped up. Immortal halfback Andrew Johns said during the week that it should be a cool $1 million.
The fact that Brisbane had the chance to ice top spot in the final round but chose to play a team stacked with their Queensland Cup back-up brigade while their big guns rested on Thursday night tells you all you need to know about the care factor in clubland.
Penrith can steal the trophy from them by beating North Queensland at BlueBet Stadium on Saturday night but despite naming a near full-strength line-up, they could still sit a few of their key players to keep them fresh for the finals.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo had flown to Brisbane on Thursday night to present the Broncos with the shield if they had beaten the Storm, but tucked it back into his travel luggage to possibly present it to the Panthers.
In a way the NRL dodged a bullet by the Broncos losing to the Storm.
It would have seemed more than a little odd for the customary final round photo of the grand old silverware surrounded by sweaty players who for the most part had played only a handful matches throughout the 2023 campaign.
The likes of captain Adam Reynolds, Reece Walsh, Payne Haas, Ezra Mam, Herbie Farnworth, Selwyn Cobbo, Billy Walters, Kurt Capewell, Kobe Hetherington and the suspended Kotoni Staggs could have joined in the picture in their club polos but it still would have been a strange look.
Even way back in 1908 when the premiership first kicked off, a finals system was set up instead of a first past the post system that is the tradition in many soccer leagues around the world.
There was a period from 1912 onwards where it was sporadically used but it was abolished forever when South Sydney’s unbeaten 1925 campaign turned the second half of the season into a snoozefest.
Nearly a hundred years later and the debate still rages every year about how to generate more interest in finishing first.
In the old days of the final five playoff format, finishing the regular season at the top of the ladder held a legitimate advantage.
Teams would get the first week of the finals off and the chance to advance to the Grand Final with just one further victory where they would proudly parade the JJ Giltinan Shield if they took out the overall premiership.
Finishing top two is all that matters now. Apart from the modest prizemoney, the difference between placing first or second pretty much amounts to getting first choice on playing strip on Grand Final night.
As the NRL expands to 17 this year and 18 and potentially beyond in the near future, it is worth revisiting whether the playoff system should be expanded from eight to 10.
Whether that’s a format where 10 teams qualify or the “wild card weekend” which was raised and shot down a few years ago.
The chorus of critics for expanding the number of clubs that make the playoffs will point to rewarding mediocrity as the primary reason to keep the current eight-team format.
That is true but it’s not like we have a situation where teams with losing records are routinely making the finals.
Parramatta, Souths and the Cowboys or Roosters will miss the playoffs this year despite finishing with 12-12 records.
Last season the Dragons (yes, them) missed the cut with the same record while winning 13 out of 24 was not enough for the Broncos to qualify in the eight.
Although there was the situation the previous year where the Titans snared eighth with a 10-14 “success” rate.
With 17 teams it’s too premature to have a wild card weekend where the sides ranked 7-10 play off for the final two spots while the top six put their feet up.
But when there is 18, and definitely if the competition expands to 20, it should be strongly considered.
It was interesting to see the traditionally staid AFL powers-that-be float the idea this season.
They normally fear change more than another 20th century visionary, Garth Algar.
Putting aside the debate about what percentage of teams should make the finals, expanding the number to 10 helps create more interest in the closing rounds because there are fewer dud games with no playoff implications.
Anyone who sat through last Sunday’s Sea Eagles vs Bulldogs will be sympathetic to that argument. Those spectators should have been charged NSW Cup rates because the genuine NRL talents like Daly Cherry-Evans were few and far between among the 34 on display.
Whatever the NRL head honchos do with the playoff format in the future, the last thing they should consider is a bye round the week before the post-season.
While it was a long way less than ideal that the Broncos, Storm, Knights, Warriors and possibly Panthers fielded weakened teams for their last regular season match, it’s not a major issue.
These teams have earned the right to keep their stars in cotton wool and giving young fringe first-graders a run under the bright lights can only benefit them down the track.
Fans don’t necessarily remember whether their team won in the final round before the finals but they have instant recall when asked about how their side went in the years they made the playoffs.
Having a star player injured in the week before the finals can be the difference between lifting a trophy or not. The one that teams actually are hellbent on winning, not the poor old JJ Giltinan Shield.