The party's nearly over for the first arrivals

The minor premiership can be a swiftly lost advantage in the NRL. Ask the St George-Illawarra Dragons. It's a bit like being the first single bloke to arrive at the party - technically he has given himself the best possible chance of meeting a nice girl, but realistically no matter how hard he tries to lay the groundwork, a whole bunch of cool guys are going to turn up two hours later to steal his overly-eager thunder. The Eels, Broncos, and Storm have shown it's all about timing. Not longevity. Not consistency. Such attributes are nothing but recipes for choking. Just timing. The right place at the right time, such as in the kitchen when the party pies exit the oven. These three sides spent much of the build-up to the big bash in September being poorly dressed, unshaven, and lacking confidence. But they pulled themselves together at the last minute and are now lighting up the dance floor. The Dragons and Titans, meanwhile, have been caught flat-footed. The Tigers took the same fashionably late approach, although sadly arrived so late they had missed the party altogether. Some blame the fact their designated driver, Benji Marshall, perhaps spent too long stopping over at halfback on the way there. It takes twenty-six weeks to seal top spot, but only eighty minutes to find yourself facing a sudden-death match at the home of the next opponent. Never mind that they happened to finish five places below you on the ladder. Never mind the energy and commitment required to stave off fifteen other sides after six months of weekly football. It won't be easy for the Dragons to impress at the Broncos' stable. All eyes will be on them and thousands of guests will be booing raucously. The pressure is immense. Justin Poore will be wise not to try the punch. And this after just one loss in the first week of the finals. Likewise the 8th placed Eels now host the 3rd placed Titans. The whole thing seems a little back to front. Their house parties may have fizzled first time around, but surely they deserve another crack at it. At the very least don't make them travel interstate. What kind of deeply flawed system permits so many injustices? This McIntyre makes an ordinary party planner. He needs to be sacked and replaced with somebody fresh. The problem is caused by the competition's evenness due to the salary cap. In theory playing team 8 is supposed to be a giant plus for team 1. Same for 2nd against 7th. Is it, though? These days it seems not. Better to turn up in fine form than at the top of the table. When one considers only two regular season victories separated the 4th placed Storm and the 8th placed Eels, and that sides do not all face the exact same opponents during the year, it becomes clear that the finals format resembles somewhat of a lucky dip. Sure the Dragons get a second bite at the cherry, but playing away from home means they still drew the booby prize. At least the AFL's system rewards losing top-four sides with a guaranteed chance to fight back on home turf. Teams 5 to 8 must do it the hard way. And that's the way it should be. The formerly high-flying Dragons and Titans must turn their fortunes around immediately. They've made fools of themselves by tripping over nervously in front of the whole crowd. Nobody wants to know them. Now they are precariously close to a long night hunched over on the bathroom floor. Somebody else's bathroom floor. What a mess. As for the Eels and Broncos, well they're looking sharp. Still, anything is possible. The party ain't over til there's one man standing, holding aloft a big bronze trophy, and offering commiserations to the devastated losers with all the sincerity of a cocktail frankfurt.

For more of Kalon, visit his blog