Recently, Manly coach Geoff Toovey commented that the Minor Premiership is undervalued, especially given the length and toughness of the modern competition. And he is absolutely right.
From 1910 til 1925 the team who were Minor Premiers were instantly awarded the Premiership. It was deemed that being the best side over an entire season was worthy enough of the title of Premiers. The only time a final was played was when two teams finished the year on the same competition points (Points differential was not used to determine premiers). Since then the glory of Minor Premiership success has been whittled down.
From 1926 until 1953, a finals system was employed (with the exception of the 1937 season which was cut short to accommodate the Kangaroo's tour). In this finals system, the Minor Premiers would play the third placed side and second would play fourth. The winners would square off in the final.
If the team, who was the minor premier in this time, lost their finals match, they had the right to challenge the winner of the final in a Grand Final.
It was 1954 that saw the worth of the Minor Premiership after a year of toil and being the benchmark, get downgraded. The Minor Premier and the second placed side would play each other in the first week of finals and the losing side would get a second chance and remain in the finals series, while the winner would advance to the Grand Final and get a week off. This system remained in place up until 1972.
From 1973 til 1994 the game moved from a top 4 system to a top 5. The Minor Premier received the first week of the finals off. If they won their first finals game they advanced straight to the Grand Final. If they lost they got a second chance and another week off, while the team that beat them advanced directly to the Grand Final.
As the game expanded to 20 teams in 1995, the finals system did too, with 8 teams vying for premiership glory. Under this system, the teams in the finals were split into two groups, the top 4 and the bottom 4. The Minor Premiers played the fourth placed side. As in the previous finals series, the Minor Premiers still received a week off if they won their first final match or a second chance if they lost.
In 1999, the newly formed NRL adopted the McIntyre system which granted the second placed side the same privilege as the Minor Premier, being that they could both lose in week 1 of the finals and get a second chance, or win and a get a week off.
It's time that the Minor Premiership was made to be much more rewarding.
So you guessed it, here's my proposal and it is simple.
Keep the current top 8 system, but re-introduce the old rule whereby the Minor Premier could challenge the Grand Final winner for the Premiership.
You could essentially see two Grand Finals in a year. That's bound to make some big coin. It most importantly gives the Minor Premiership an immense amount of importance.
Last weekend the Newcastle Knights staged a magnificent victory against the Melbourne Storm, scoring a try after the siren sounded to level the scores, before the boot of Kurt Gidley sealed the miraculous victory.
It prompted Craig Bellamy to go into a tirade against one of the two on-field referees, Ashley Klein, claiming Klein had some sort of vendetta against the Storm.
Bellamy said: "Ashley Klein obviously doesn't like the way we play our footy. We've had that many times when we've had him this year and the penalty count, it hasn't even been close. Every time we have Ashley we always seem to be on the wrong side of the penalty count and a fair way on the wrong side."
Craig, your abysmal sportsmanship aside, you are completely wrong, on several points.
If Klein doesn't like the way you play and has an issue with the Melbourne Storm, why is it that your team has won 14 of 24 games played under Klein's control?
Klein has officiated 6 of Melbourne's 20 games this year. They were:
Round 2 - Melbourne def Penrith 18-17. Melbourne won the penalty count 11-10
Round 4 - Canterbury def Melbourne 40-12. Penalties were drawn 7 all.
Round 8 - Warriors def Melbourne 16-10. Warriors won the penalty count 5-4
Round 12 - North Queensland def Melbourne 22-0. Cowboys won the penalty count 7-4
Round 16 - St George-Illawarra def Melbourne 24-12. Penalties were drawn 3 all.
Round 22 - Newcastle def Melbourne 32-30. Newcastle won the penalty count 11-3
Prior to last weekends game, Melbourne had won 1 penalty count, drawn 2 counts and lost 2 counts. They had received 29 penalties to their opponents 32, in games refereed by Klein this season.
Hardly 'a fair way on the wrong side.'
Melbourne has a long history of introducing ugly wrestling tactics to ball carriers to slow down the play the ball or disable opponents. So proficient were they that the NRL brought in laws against the crusher tackle and the chicken wing.
Melbourne's latest tactic has involved a defender lifting up one leg of an attacker as high as they can in an attempt to halt their momentum and turn them around.
Given how badly one of their lifting tackles went earlier the year on Newcastle Knights player Alex McKinnon, you would think the Storm would abandon this particular practice.
It's grubby, it's ugly, it makes the game look unattractive, it injures players and even laws have had to be made to restrict the usage of some of their tactics.
Klein has every right to not like their style of football.
And to learn that Klein has been punished and dropped to lower grades after Bellamy's outright lies is utterly disgraceful.
Bellamy's comments were no doubt a ploy to get referee's to officiate in a manner more favourable toward the Storm.
And that is as deplorable as Melbourne's wrestling tactics.