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As my old Maths teacher used to say whilst chalking up a complex equation - ?there are more ways to kill a cat than choking it with butter?. Sure, but on the first Sunday in October, we want to hand Norm and Arthur to the most worthy of clubs.
When September arrives and the semis are decided, a certain buzz engulfs League fans as they walk the streets, especially if your team has made the finals. But amid the joy there always seems to be an element of trepidation surrounding the Final 8 program employed by the NRL. Every year, it seems, we wheel out the same old unfavourable lines in comparison to the system adopted by our southern cousins in the AFL.
Some fans claim that the McIntyre system used in Rugby League fails to sufficiently protect teams that finish in the top 4 who have fought hard each week to finish high up on the premiership ladder. It?s simply untrue. In fact, the NRL?s case for the McIntyre system is so solid that Perry Mason couldn?t convict them of having an inferior Finals series.
Let?s run through a few home truths?
Fact 1: The AFL?s system protects positions 1-4 in week one of the finals
Team 1 plays 4 and 2 plays 3 in the first week with 1 & 2 receiving a home final. Likewise, 5 plays 8 and 6 plays 7 in the bottom half with both games played in Melbourne regardless of where the teams come from.
Fact 2: The NRL?s system protects positions 1 & 2 in week one of the finals
Yes it?s true, teams 3 and 4 can be eliminated from the semi finals if the bottom half of the draw miraculously upset the top half of the draw at their home grounds in the first week of the finals. This has never happened in the history of the NRL Top 8.
The big difference here is the opposition in the first week with the AFL top 4 getting busy killing one another in the first week of the finals. I know it?s the business end of the season, but the semis are a campaign in themselves.
The top two in League play the bottom two at home which offers much more opportunity to win and progress to a week off. This has always lead to positions 3 and 4 getting a second chance by virtue of the fact that if they lose they become the highest ranked losers.
Top 4 AFL teams could spend so much petrol in the first week that they face crashing out of the semis altogether in the second week. The Leaguies go about sorting the wheat from the chaff in the first round and allow those who have worked for it all year a distinct advantage over their opponents.
Both draws then take a similar trend, with the top two winners advancing to a week off and the bottom two losers heading to the pub. Then, moving forward to the Grand Final qualifiers, the AFL continues with a clear home ground advantage to the teams who have earned the week off.
Isn?t this a bit strange? Wouldn?t you think that a game to determine the competitors in the Grand Final at the MCG would be played at the MCG? Isn?t that the purpose of a Preliminary Final?
If you?re coming home strong in the AFL it is probably more advantageous that you finish 5th in the regular season. This will result in you playing on the MCG for the first game providing match practise and a neutral venue. You will play 8th position on the ladder meaning you have the easiest game in week one and if you?ve built momentum towards the tail end of the season then you won?t lose any steam with a week off.
This happened in 1998 when Adelaide Crows won the flag from 5th position, defeating minor premiers North Melbourne Kangaroos.
Fans who complain about the NRL?s top 8 system being inferior to the AFL?s remind me of children who hanker after other children?s toys. You know the ones that sit there and cry to mummy about how they want exactly the same thing as someone else when they already have something better?
Embrace the McIntyre 8 - it?s like owning the GI Joe and knowing better than to cry after the Barbie doll.
Grand Finals ? NRL
2004 ? Bulldogs (2nd) def Roosters (1st) 2003 ? Panthers (1st) def Roosters (2nd) 2002 ? Roosters (4th) def Warriors (1st) 2001 ? Knights (3rd) def Eels (1st) 2000 ? Broncos (1st) def Roosters (2nd) 1999 ? Melbourne (3rd) def Dragons (6th) 1998 ? Broncos (1st) def Bulldogs (9th)
Grand Finals ? AFL
2004 ? Power (1st) def Lions (2nd) 2003 ? Lions (3rd) def Magpies (2nd) 2002 ? Lions (2nd) def Magpies (4th) 2001 ? Lions (2nd) def Bombers (1st) 2000 ? Bombers (1st) def Demons (3rd) 1999 ? Kangaroos (2nd) def Blues (6th) 1998 ? Crows (5th) def Kangaroos (1st)