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Not one or two? Your chances are limited

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Roy Masters

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NRL Grand Final preview

No doubt it will be a very tactical game, but which of these two very different teams will have the goods on the day.

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If either Canterbury or Melbourne had not been rewarded with a week’s break during the September play-offs, that team could not win Sunday’s grand final.

The chilling outcome of the NRL finals format adopted this year is that all teams in the bottom four, together with a top-four team that loses in the first weekend of the NRL finals, is almost certainly destined to be runner-up on grand final day.

Minor premiers, the Bulldogs and No.2 team, the Storm, who will fight it out an ANZ Stadium for  this year’s premiership, have both enjoyed a week’s break, mirroring the AFL grand finalists, Hawthorn and Sydney.

Roy Masters says a week off during the finals is increasingly important.

Roy Masters says a week off during the finals is increasingly important.

The AFL have used the NRL’s new finals system since 2000, during which 23 of the 26 teams enjoying a week’s break before the preliminary final have made the grand final.

Today’s footballers are so simultaneously brilliant and brutal, it’s difficult to see any team, under a draw where the top-ranked teams meet each other in the first weekend of the play-offs, surviving a month of mentally and physically draining play.

The relentless attack and remorseless defence where team  one meets team four and team two plays team three means the winners need 13-14 days to prepare for the victors from the second finals weekend.

Asked after last week’s relatively easy win over Manly whether any future team could win a premiership playing four finals matches, most people in the Storm dressing room said, ‘‘No, it’s too hard.’’

Only Melbourne coach, Craig Bellamy, had any reservations.

‘‘I can see a team which has had a lot of players coming back from injury about two-thirds the way through the season finishing outside the top two and making a successful run for the premiership,’’ he said.

‘‘They would have to get their stars back and build form and find some momentum to do it.’’

Bellamy could well be talking about his own team, which lost fullback Billy Slater and centre Will Chambers during the Origin period, suffered five defeats and slowly found form while they won another five games, including a 20-18 win over Cronulla at home in round 25.

Had the Storm not scored 10 points in the last couple of minutes against the Sharks, they could have been relegated to positions three or four, forcing them to win in Sydney in the first weekend.

Finishing first or second on the premiership ladder is therefore a colossal advantage under the new finals system.

Bellamy is sometimes accused of ‘‘pot hunting’’ minor premierships.

I suspect it’s not the trophy  that motivates him but the benefits it brings: playing at home twice and enjoying a weekend off.

Coaches today have a better understanding of how to prepare players in the week’s break, a problem that confounded coaches in the part-time era of a five-team semi-finals series, when the minor premier won a week’s break after the regular season, then, assuming it won the major semi-final, was given a further week off.

Now, in the NRL, we have the top two teams at the end of the home-and-away season equal as they enter the grand final.

So, what could be the difference maker? Composure on the big stage.

The Storm played in every NRL grand final between 2006 and 2009 with a total of 18 appearances from the current squad. Canterbury have not been in the finals since 2009 and their players have minimal grand final experience.

This points to an old statistic: no team can win a premiership unless it plays in a grand final in one of the preceding four years.

In other words, teams have to lose one, to win one.

Brisbane were the first to buck the system with a grand final victory in their first attempt, 1992. However, many of the Broncos players were experienced on the big stage of Origin football.

There have been exceptions since, with Newcastle in 1997, Melbourne in 1999, Penrith in 2003, Wests Tigers in 2005 and St George Illawarra in 2010.

However, many of these were upsets associated with a split competition, the favourites imploding, or a dominant team expelled because of salary cap violations.

The AFL grand final offers a clue to Sunday’s outcome. It’s six years since the Swans last played in the grand final, while the Hawks won in 2008 and were unlucky to lose last year’s preliminary final.  

Melbourne, with half the team having played in the 2009 grand final, should be more composed.

13 comments so far

  • THis has been a funny finals series where the team with the higher rank has won every game:
    Week 1 - 1 beat 4, 2 beat 3, 5 beat 8 and 6 beat 7.
    Week 2 - 4 beat 5 and 3 beat 6
    Week 3 - 1 beat 3 and 2 beat 4
    GF = 1 v 2.
    It bodes well for the Dogs, but this is a massive anomaly - I can't recall a series that has gone so well to script...ever.
    To draw long ranging conclusions from teh series is a long bow to draw methinks. Just look at recent history is GF's:
    2011 - 2 v 6 (no rest)
    2010 - 1 v 6 (no rest)
    2009 - 4 v 8 (no rest)

    Commenter
    iambunney
    Date and time
    September 28, 2012, 9:04AM
    • Roy, if what you say is true then that is a great outcome. The old system almost relegated the regular season to a minor pre-qualifying tournament - you may as well as just had every team make the finals and run them for three months. The most consistent teams, those that finish one and two, deserve to have the best run to the grand final.

      Commenter
      Stevo
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      September 28, 2012, 9:07AM
      • The AFL adopted this finals system 13 seasons ago. In that time NO team outside of the top four has made the Grand Final. So, one might ask the question, why not just go back to the old system of a "Top Four" semi-final series. If we're talking about making sure the best, most consistent teams are rewarded, then this is the optimal way of doing so. On the other hand, if we're only talking about profits for the game, the "Top Eight" will stay.

        Commenter
        Drew Blood
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        September 28, 2012, 9:29AM
        • It's not only about profits. It also keeps people's interests up during the season. If your coming around 10th half way though the season, you would lose interest really early on. And that's not good for the game in general.

          Commenter
          Budz
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          September 28, 2012, 2:00PM
        • Hi Budz,
          I take you point but I don't think a genuine supporter would lose interest if they think their team is good enough to make the play offs — AND actually stand a chance of winning the competition.
          13 years of AFL history suggests that the so-called 'new system' for the finals gives the lower finishing teams ( ie 5,6,7 and 8) very little hope of success, which is unlike the McIntyre System that most people think was a bad one.

          Commenter
          Drew Blood
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          September 28, 2012, 2:47PM
      • Roy - off topic, but have you been approached to coach Wests Tigers? With some of the comments by players, I think your pre-game warm up techniques would be quite helpful. Why is there minimal coverage in the press that the reason Sheens can't be paid out is due to Balmain being unable to provide sufficient funds as part of the JV agreement?

        Commenter
        Having a beer
        Location
        Wests Ashfield
        Date and time
        September 28, 2012, 10:53AM
        • Why not extend the season by an extra 6 rounds and everyone plays each other twice? Then get rid of the top 8 and replace it with a top 5. I, like many others, are sick of seeing some teams having to do it tough while the others get an easier draw. Souths were a good example of that this year. They played the majority of the better teams once and played the lesser teams twice hence, they had an easy run into the playoffs. This issue was addressed with the NRL by many coaches and the NRL simply didn't want to know about it. Playing each other twice would certainly sort the real men from the boys and there would be no more of the, x amount of points and a team will scrape into the 8. Make them work harder for their money, god knows they earn plenty so surely they can play 6 more games.
          As for the grand final, a lot of people keep saying the Bulldogs will have it over the Storm but they seem to be forgetting one very important thing. The Storm lost 5 games on the trot, had they not lost those games, they would easily have finished as minor premiers. The Bulldogs on the other hand only finished 2 points clear of the Storm, does that not tell people something? The game they played against the Rabbitohs on Saturday night was a bit of a telling tale. The Bulldogs were rattled until the Rabbitohs lost their halfback, is that telling anyone anything yet? I sure hope so because I'm running out of "words remaining" On that note, may the best team win. GO THE STORMERS!

          Commenter
          Purple Reign
          Location
          Newcastle
          Date and time
          September 28, 2012, 12:24PM
          • I love the new format. However, I believe that the same finals format is being used in the VB Cup. The Grand Final this year is being played between Balmain and Newtown, who finished 8th and 7th respectively. With the closeness of the comp at the moment, finishing first and second doesn't guarentee you anything. Don't underestimate what a team playing sudden death footy will bring..

            Commenter
            Dave
            Location
            Parramatta
            Date and time
            September 28, 2012, 12:27PM
            • The stats above are just stats and of no importance. The big games are won by big name players and by the forwards. Storm may have the so called big three but the Bulldogs have the big forwards. Cronk may be better than Keating, but Reynolds is better than Widdup so that even. Bulldogs have the better backs. So it all adds up to a Bulldogs win.

              Commenter
              speedy2460
              Location
              Grafton
              Date and time
              September 28, 2012, 12:33PM
              • I was always told cheats never prosper. In the case of the NRL who spends the most money wins. In a lopsided draw meant to favour Brisbane & Melbourne it is hardly surprising that two clubs that would do anything to win a premiership (including cheating) have made the GF. NRL is becoming a big yawn where money and corporate greed is the new ethos. I always knew that once the NRL started getting in bed with the sports betting agencies, the future of the game would be very limited.

                Commenter
                Disillusioned
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                September 28, 2012, 12:37PM

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