First-up success vital as new system hits home



DESPITE being assured of finishing in the top two, the Sea Eagles may have to win two finals matches on the road in either Auckland, Townsville, Brisbane or Melbourne to qualify for the grand final at Telstra Stadium.

In a dramatic change to scheduling for the finals series this year, all play-off matches leading up to the grand final will be played in the home city or region of the highest-ranked winners after the opening round of games to be hosted by the top four finishing teams.

The move offers a huge incentive to win first up - even for Melbourne and Manly, who are guaranteed to finish first and second. Should they win, the Storm and Sea Eagles will advance to week three and host grand final qualifying matches at Melbourne's Telstra Dome and either Sydney Football Stadium or Telstra Stadium.

But if either team were to lose they would have to play away to either the third- or fourth-highest ranked winner in the second week, with the two highest ranked winners having the weekend off before hosting a final in their home region in week three.

The third- and fourth-highest ranked winners will host the two highest ranked losers in their home city - but not necessarily their home ground - in week two.

Each season since the NRL adopted the McIntyre final eight system nine years ago, there has been a first-week upset, with the team ranked sixth beating the third-ranked team in 1999, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, and the seventh-ranked team beating the team finishing second in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004.

Unless the Storm lose both their remaining games to the Bulldogs and Titans, and Manly beat the Warriors and Dragons as well as overcoming a 36-point inferior for-and-against, the Sea Eagles will finish second behind Melbourne and play at Brookvale Oval against the team finishing seventh. Wests Tigers hold that position but any of the nine teams vying for the remaining five final eight berths after the Storm, Manly and the Cowboys could finish seventh in two weeks' time.

"It's quite a change to the system this year," NRL chief operating officer Graham Annesley said. "Under the McIntyre system, everyone gets re-ranked after the first week, and we have had plenty of examples of lower-ranked teams winning. We've never had team eight beat team one yet but eventually that is going to happen, and you wouldn't rule it out this year."

Manly chief executive Grant Mayer said the possibility of having to beat the Warriors, Cowboys, Broncos and Storm in their home towns underlined the importance of winning at Brookvale first up.

But he predicted there would be calls to review the system if the Sea Eagles were forced to play successive finals matches away from Sydney. "I think they would have to look at it if that was to happen," Mayer said. "If a team was to finish eight points ahead of their nearest rivals in second place, it would seem a bit tough for them to then have to travel interstate or to New Zealand to play a team that finished lower than them."

The changes to the play-offs format offer a huge advantage to non-Sydney teams, and the third-ranked Cowboys last week addressed their players to advise them of the importance of ensuring they remained in the top four to get a home final in week one.

Remarkably, however, most coaches contacted by the Herald were unaware of how the system worked.


How the finals system works:

Teams finishing 1 (v 8), 2 (v 7), 3 (v 6), 4 (v 5) host finals at home grounds

WEEK TWO: HOME CITY FINALSFinals in home city of third- and fourth-highest ranked winners (v 2 highest ranked losers)

WEEK THREE: HOME REGION FINALSFinals in home region of first- and second-highest ranked winners from Week One (v winners from Week Two)

WEEK FOUR: GRAND FINALTelstra Stadium, Sunday night, September 30

Canteen Worker

First Grader
This really sucks and is an outrage. It basically means that should Manly lose the first home semi, despite coming second by the length of the straight, we could be playing someone like Auckland in New Zealand, The Cowboys in Townsville or one of the Sydney teams away. What reward is there, except for the first home semi. (Same goes for Melbourne.)

Very poor NRL.


UFO Hunter
Theoretically its giving 5th and 6th a chance at the same privileges that 1st and 2nd work so hard for all season.

So you can suck all year and happen to pull off a miraculous win in 1 game and get rewarded with a home game running into the grand final qualifier. What a joke.


First Grader
this has been around for a long while now. it is many months since this came up.

its to stop the chances of something like Melbourne Playing Brisbane in Sydney in front of nobody

Kiwi Eagle

Staff member
The seedings that are created by the regular season should be used for the entire finals up to week 3, simple as that.

Canteen Worker

First Grader
The higher ranked team in any game should be the home team or all games from week two should be in Sydney at Aussie.

To have first or second playing for their season AWAY due to one bad game (or a ref's shocker) in week one would be appalling and totally unfair.

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