Off the Wall

For the second year in a row, team eight has beaten team one in the first round of the finals series. That has inevitably raised questions about whether or not the "McIntyre System" is the best for an eight team finals series.

The debate has been a seemingly endless one ever since we introduced the system - a system the AFL abandoned some years ago.

My own view is that the system the AFL now uses at least deserves to be considered. But it is not without its flaws as well.

The real difference between the two systems is that the AFL system gives added advantage to the teams finishing 1-4 in the premiership.

Our system really only gives the same advantage to teams 1 and 2. But even then the advantage is a limited one. And teams 3 and 4 are not guaranteed a place in the second round, even though it is likely they will be - likely, but not certain.

Under the AFL system teams 1 to 4 are guaranteed a place in the second round of the finals. Under the NRL system, only teams 1 and 2 have that guarantee. Under the AFL system, teams 1 to 4 continue to receive home ground advantage in round two even if they lose in round one.

Back to the NRL. The minor premiers, the Dragons, received $100,000 for being minor premiers, and had a home game in round one - but so did teams 2, 3 and 4.

But this weekend, the Dragons have to play the Broncos in Brisbane. While the Broncos beat the Titans, they did not finish the premiership season in the top four - finishing in sixth place. That would not happen under the AFL system.

The Titans, who finished third, have to play the Eels, who finished eighth, in Sydney.

It will, of course, be argued that teams which lose in round one should not be advantaged in round two.

But the question which is worthy of discussion before the 2010 season is whether or not the current system provides adequate reward to the teams which finish at the top of the premiership table.

Some clubs favour the McIntyre system, others don't. Interestingly, the Broncos CEO, Bruno Cullen, doesn't favour it - even though this year it works in the Broncos favour.

If we are to debate the current system, that debate has to inevitably include discussion on whether or not we are best served by an eight team finals series in a 16 team competition.

If it was a seven team finals series, the minor premiers could have the bye in round one - a system that once applied.

The problem I have with an eight team finals series is that a team can just about make it into the finals without winning a majority of games in the premiership rounds. The Eels made it with 12 wins, 11 losses and one draw.

The argument used to be that the minor premiers had a significant advantage because their first game was against the team which ended up in eighth place.

But if the salary cap is working, as Warren Ryan among others believes it is, then the "gap" between first place and eighth place is narrowing. So the advantage is supposedly diminishing.

Leigh Matthews did stress that the system the AFL uses does favour the top four teams quite significantly. I think he said that something like 16 of the last 20 grand finals have been played between teams that finished in the top four.

Is that too great an advantage? Or too great a disadvantage to the bottom four?

But does our system, conversely, give too great an advantage to the teams that just sneak into the finals?

The NRL seems committed to the current system...and it has its reasons for doing so.

But what harm is there in debating whether it best serves the good of the game?