Top four or bust in NRL

If the AFL’s experience with the top-eight system is any indication, NRL teams can all but forget about a shot at the grand final if they don’t finish in the top four.

Since the system was introduced to the AFL in 2000, no team from outside the top four has made the grand final and only one from fifth or lower has gone beyond the second week of the finals.

Rugby league used the system in 1995-96 and has gone back to it this year after using the McIntyre system from 1999.

AFL statistician and historian Cameron Sinclair said the system rewarded teams who performed strongly in the regular season.

“The top four always end up being the last four … in other words, the bottom four have never got through to the top four (of finalists),” Sinclair said.

“Collingwood in 2006 finished sixth and ended up reaching a preliminary final, so they are the only one in the time since we’ve had the system to have finished in the bottom four and made a preliminary final.”

Sydney’s 2005 AFL premiership-winning coach Paul Roos likes the top-eight format.

“I think it’s a much fairer system because there should be an advantage in finishing in the top four and an advantage in finishing top two,” Roos told AAP.

“What it means is you are pretty unlikely to win it outside the top four.

“Six can beat seven, eight can beat five but, generally, the way it’s set up, two of the top-four teams should play in the grand final.”

Roos said finishing near the top was particularly crucial for interstate teams such as the Melbourne Storm.

Under the NRL system, the top four are guaranteed a second chance, and they need just two wins to secure a grand-final berth, while those sides that finish in the top two are guaranteed two home games in the finals.

As it stands, Melbourne are second on the ladder and would face third-placed South Sydney in Melbourne in the first week of the finals.

“There’s a great reward for those interstate teams. They gain a huge advantage playing in their home state,” Roos said.

Of comfort to NRL clubs who finish outside the top four this year is the fact Canterbury won the competition from sixth place in 1995.

The McIntyre system produced three grand finalists from outside the top four with the Warriors (sixth, 2011), Sydney Roosters (sixth, 2010) and North Queensland (fifth, 2005).

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