Tuesday, 5 March 2019

WIldcard Weekend (2019)

On Monday the NRL proposed a ‘Wildcard Weekend’ as part of the finals system, which could be introduced as early as 2020.

It would see the teams placed ninth and tenth on the ladder at the end of the regular season play the teams ranked 7th and 8th. The winners of these two games would become the official 7th and 8th placed teams for the finals series, while the remaining 6 teams would get a week off.

The reasoning behind this concept was to reduce the number of pointless games at the end of the season – where teams with no chance of reaching the finals were playing one another, by effectively having teams vying to reach the top ten on the ladder, which would see nearly every team still in finals contention for far deeper into the season.

The reasoning and justification for this idea is entirely legitimate. It would no doubt make for a more keenly fought season for more teams.

But the cons outweigh the pro’s.

No team, since 1908 has won the premiership placed lower than 6th on the ladder, which shows that the merits of a top 8 finals system are doubtful, thus adding two teams who have performed worse than those sides into the finals and making them play an extra game, while the top 6 sides all get an extra week off, effectively makes it even harder for those teams below 6th to reach the Grand Final, let alone win it.

The other issue this presents is that it allows sides who have won less than half their games to reach the finals. Since the NRL era began in 1998 there’s been 11 teams that have won at least 50% of their games and missed the finals:

Cronulla (1998) – 12 Wins, 1 Draw, 11 Losses (1998 had a top 10, Cronulla finished 11th)
Canberra (1999) – 13 Wins, 1 Draw, 10 Losses (finished 9th)
Warriors (2006) – 12 Wins, 12 Losses (finished 10th – They would’ve placed 8th, but had 4 points deducted for cap breaches)
Newcastle (2008) – 12 Wins, 12 Losses (finished 9th)
Wests Tigers (2009) - 12 Wins, 12 Losses (finished 9th)
Melbourne (2010) – 14 Wins, 10 Losses (Finished 16th – Lost all competition points for cap breaches)
Canterbury (2011) - 12 Wins, 12 Losses (finished 9th)
Warriors (2014) - 12 Wins, 12 Losses (finished 9th)
Parramatta (2014) - 12 Wins, 12 Losses (finished 10th)
St.George-Illawarra (2017) - 12 Wins, 12 Losses (finished 9th)
Wests Tigers (2018) - 12 Wins, 12 Losses (finished 9th)

In just 1 of the years since 1998 has both teams placed 9th and 10th won at least half their games and that was 2014.

2018 was a rare year, where the top 8 was determined rather early in the year, with 8th place finishing 3 wins clear of 9th place.

It’s not wise to make a rash change after one rare season. The last time the finalists were that far ahead of the rest of the competition was in 1969.

The NRL finals system is fine as is. This change isn’t necessary. This concept looks to be nothing more than trying to find something that’s broken.

The NRL Twitter account ran a poll asking fans if they were in favour of the Wildcard Weekend concept, and after just 2 hours they’d received over 1700 votes, with 80% voting No.

Proving that nothing is broken here and this idea should be scrapped.

If the NRL wants to be fair, then they should reintroduce play-offs in the event that teams who finish outside the 8 are on the same competition points as teams inside the 8.