28 September 2011
By all reckoning, the Warriors do not deserve to be in the NRL Grand Final.
Sure, they have defied the odds with some spirited performances the past two weeks, knocking out two genuine premiership contenders.
But, no side who finishes the regular season in sixth position and then gets thrashed in the first week of the finals should ever be in a position three weeks later to play for the title.
All they deserve is a Mad Monday.
Given traditional rivalries and our love for the underdog, it is hard to justify cheering on the ‘Silvertails' on Sunday. But even before the first whistle blows, Manly are the deserved premiers.
The Warrior might win the match, and that will be testament to an amazing streak of form. But, the season is far too long to let a team slide to glory on a golden flash.
And it's exactly why the NRL should immediately dump the McIntyre Final Eight system, that for some stubborn reason it holds onto.
The AFL discarded this playoff option back in 1999, and adopted a far more equitable and exciting system that it currently uses.
It shows the NRL really is a decade behind the times.
Comparing the first round of the finals is the proof that the McIntyre system is broken and screaming to be thrown into the same box as Super League.
AFL fans were treated to three gripping matches between sides that finished the season in similar ladder positions. The league would have been salivating at the traditional rivalry match-ups between Carlton and Essendon, which drew more than 90,000 fans, and the blockbuster contest between Geelong and Hawthorn that attracted 87,000 more.
Contrastingly, there is a tangible sense of being underwhelmed by the NRL's one-sided affairs that inevitably arise when the competition's big boppers get confronted with those simply making up the numbers.
Manly's sorry affair with North Queensland produced more points than gratified spectators. Only 13,000 fans to a finals match is abysmal, and it's no fault of any of the players.
When Brisbane thumped the Warriors that same week, it should have been curtains for New Zealand.
The rest of the country could have gone on worshipping the All Blacks, a team that actually has a genuine claim to some silverware.
As much as teams like the Warriors are beneficiaries of this bizarre system, equally, sides who have excelled season-long have been dealt cruel hands by it in recent years.
In 2009, the Gold Coast Titans - who ended the season just two points from top of the ladder in third - lost a tense first-week final to the Broncos in Queensland and then found themselves drawn to play eighth place Parramatta away in Sydney.
Not even the blindest Eels fan could find the logic in that.
In hindsight it could have been worse for Titans fans if 7th placed Newcastle had have upset the Bulldogs. After 16 wins throughout the year, that result would have meant an instant KO for John Cartwright's hopefuls.
Maybe a club needs to hurled onto the canvas like that before the league's administrators notice the bleeding.
When Manly and New Zealand face off on Sunday none of this will matter one little bit. The history books will forever print their names as 2011's grand finalists.
Now, the countdown is on to the moment where the politics will be forgotten for at least 80 minutes and the pounding will begin.
The Sea Eagles frenzied by powerderkegs Anthony Watmough and George Rose, the ultimate journeyman Joe Galuvao and the reluctantly refreshed Glenn Stewart ought to give a confident backline too much attacking liberty.
Much has been spoken about the battle of the halves - four relative greenhorns who between them have only just played a third of Darren Lockyer's career match tally.
Shaun Johnson's game breaker against the Storm was confounding brilliant; he certainly looks to be something else. Whether his combination with James Moloney can match the panache of Foran and Cherry-Evans is, however, another matter.
Regardless, all four of them, not to mention their teammates, are surely grateful they won't be hearing the croaking barks of Brisbane's general across the divide.
With a fairer fixture maybe he would have been.
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Max Emery, Sydney (29 September 2011 9:41AM) wrote:
Of course, you could ask why the AFL bother with a top 8 at all considering that under the present system, no team outside the top 4 has made the Grand Final. All teams know that the premiership isn't won in August, some "fans" need to realise that too...
Martin, NSW (28 September 2011 2:28PM) wrote:
How can the NRL be a decade behind when they first used the current system the AFL use now? When was the last time a team outside the top 4 made AFL GF? Answer is 1999. So maybe the AFL should just have a top 4.