The NRL will propose a new wildcard finals system.
The NRL will propose a new wildcard finals system.

Radical changes set to shake-up NRL finals

NRL teams that finish as low at 10th on the premiership table will get the opportunity to play finals football under a proposal to revamp qualifying rules for the playoffs.

The plan is designed to keep fans engaged for longer after there were as many as 36 "dead" games involving teams that mathematically couldn't make the finals in 2018.

The new system, which could be introduced in 2020, gives the top six teams the weekend off to rest and recover, while the seventh and eighth-placed teams would face a wildcard weekend after 25 rounds against the ninth and 10th-placed sides respectively to qualify for the finals.

On last year's ladder it would mean St George Illawarra (seventh) playing the Raiders (10th) and the Warriors (eighth) playing the Wests Tigers (ninth) for the right to play finals football.

The higher-ranked sides would get the home-ground advantage.

There would only have been eight "dead" games under this system last season.

The proposal from new Head of Football Graham Annesley will go to the NRL executive and independent commission for final sign-off.

"It keeps the fans engaged for longer into the season," Annesley said, revealing television ratings for "dead" games drop eight per cent on average.

 

Wests Tigers would have qualified for the wildcard weekend in 2018. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Wests Tigers would have qualified for the wildcard weekend in 2018. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

 

"If teams are playing in games where they still have hope of qualifying for the finals our analysis shows those matches will attract on average 3000 more attendees.

"It's a win for the clubs, the fans and the television networks. Ratings drop when teams are playing in so-called dead games.

"In the final six weeks clubs won't be running around just making up the numbers.

"Last year the top eight didn't change after 12 rounds."

 

Canberra would have qualified the past two seasons after narrowly missing the top eight. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
Canberra would have qualified the past two seasons after narrowly missing the top eight. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

 

The concept also gives the NRL more content in two extra games to sell to the broadcasters.

Annesley says he understands there will be much debate about giving lower-placed teams an opportunity to progress.

"People will argue that the teams that run seventh and eighth have won enough games to qualify," he said.

"But what we're really doing is having a top six and rewarding those teams.

"We're actually strengthening the opportunity for the top six teams to win the premiership.

"They get a weekend off before the finals for rest and recovery which is crucial at that time of the season."

The proposal also reduces the usual turnaround issues and player welfare concerns leading into first weekend of finals series.

The obvious negative is that a team like the Canberra Raiders that finished last year on 22 competition points, with only 10 wins, could still play finals football.

 

Head of Football Graham Annesley says the concept will keep fans engaged for longer. Picture: Toby Zerna
Head of Football Graham Annesley says the concept will keep fans engaged for longer. Picture: Toby Zerna

 

On last year's ladder they would get the opportunity to knock out seventh-placed St George Illawarra, who finished the premiership rounds on 32 points with five more wins.

But overall it is an exciting concept.

And the sort of innovation the NRL has been lacking for a long time.

"It's a proposal that's good for fans," Annesley said, "They're not going to get to round 20 and say 'we're stuffed, we can't make the eight. What's the point of watching anymore?'"

News Corp Australia


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