The NRL replaced the McIntyre finals system with the current format for the 2012 finals series. This new system is the same as the one currently used by the AFL.
There were arguments to replace the McIntyre system after the eighth placed side beat the first placed side in both 2008 and 2009. The new format rewards teams for placing higher in the regular season but is it the right format for the NRL?
There are many arguments for changing the format again. Defenders of the McIntyre system have mostly come to accept the new format but there are those that would have preferred to see Storm vs. Cowboys, Roosters vs. Panthers, Broncos vs. Sea Eagles and Eels vs. Sharks.
While a number of these matchups are interesting, we saw a highly competitive and entertaining Week 1 of the finals. With the McIntyre system matchups, there would likely have been more blow-out matches, which makes for less entertaining viewing.
Other fans have complained that eight teams in the finals reward mediocrity. This year we have seen the teams placed seventh and eighth defeat the teams in sixth and fifth, though this is a rare occurrence in the new format. Only twice before this season have either the eighth or seventh placed sides won their elimination final; the Bulldogs over the Storm in 2014 and the Knights over the Bulldogs in 2013.
That means, excluding 2017, seventh and eighth placed sides have won round one finals games two times out of a possible ten. Does that mean that the NRL is allowing too many average sides in the finals?
A six team finals series has been proposed instead of the traditional eight. In this format, only the best of the best would play in the finals and we would see very high-quality games. The problem with this format though, is that ten teams would miss out on the finals, which seem quite unfair in a competition of 16.
It is also a financial benefit for the NRL to have eight teams in the finals. With average attendance at finals games nearly twice as high as at regular games, the NRL knows that interest in the finals series is considerably greater than that of the regular season. To cut two teams for the finals would hurt the NRL in terms of ratings, attendance and overall finances.
Expansion of the competition could also cause the NRL finals series to change. If more teams are added to the competition, it might be beneficial to the NRL to expand the finals format. However adding more teams with the way the competition is now, would take away from the quality that is unique to the finals.
The current finals format does a good job. While some fans have problems with the way it is done, we are still given plenty of great games of rugby league and reward the teams that led the way during the year.
What changes, if any, should be implemented in the NRL finals format?