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For & Against: Should NRL bring in Wildcard Weekend?

"There's no such thing as a bad idea" as the NRL's innovation committee explores all sorts of avenues in the how, when and where of getting rugby league back on the paddock in 2020.

So what about the wildcard weekend - where teams seven and eight face off in sudden-death footy against those finishing tenth and ninth respectively - to potentially kick start the year's finals series?

The idea was first tabled, and ultimately shelved, last year, but is back under consideration as one of the NRL's possible schedule scenarios.

Could it work in rugby league's strangest season on record?

For senior journalist Dan Walsh

You know what, why not?

In a regular, 25-round season, there is ample time to sort the contenders and pretenders, this year for obvious reasons, not so much.

There's a decent chance of a mid-table, Nelson Asofa-Solomona-sized logjam between places sixth to 12th in a reduced competition.

In an unprecedented time like this, tossing up a wildcard to teams finishing ninth and tenth is not so much rewarding mediocrity as offering an opportunity.

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And given the finances at play, the NRL needs to take every opportunity it can get.

When the wildcard was first floated by head office last year, "dead matches" – those games involving teams unable to make the 2018 finals – dropped gate takings by around $80,000 and television audiences roughly eight per cent a match.

Every man and his dog will be clamouring for rugby league in any shape or form for the rest of 2020 and the curiosity factor at the very least would heighten that again with a wildcard weekend that promises more high-octane, sudden death footy.

Crowds are still such an unknown for the rest of 2020. But if the NRL can take a concept to broadcasters Channel Nine and Foxtel that will increase interest and potentially boost their bottom line then it won't be sneezed at.

Trent Robinson is sitting on the new innovation committee that has been tasked with analysing the myriad options "on the table" around this year's schedule.

And when the prospect of a was put to the coach who was the bookies favourite to feature again on grand final, Robinson told SEN radio: "I would be giving the opportunity, if it's a shortened competition, for the top eight and for teams to get the opportunity to play finals footy, to get finals coffers filled for more clubs."

Wouldn't a wildcard weekend share the pie around to a few more plates?

Against editor Paul Suttor

Even though these here are crazy times and the finals format has changed many times over the previous 112 years of the premiership, the NRL shouldn’t bring in the “wildcard weekend” if the interrupted 2020 season resumes later this year in a shortened format.

The 16 teams will still have a 50-50 chance of making the finals if the NRL keeps the existing top eight system.

If teams nine and 10 are allowed to make it into the playoffs via a one-off elimination game against the seventh- and eighth-ranked sides, it could be seen as a reward for mediocrity as those teams will almost certainly have losing records at the end of the regular season, irrespective of how many games can get scheduled later in the year.

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All ideas are on the table for ARL Commissioner Wayne Pearce’s innovation committee and the wildcard weekend idea has merit because it will keep more teams in the running for the finals deeper into the regular season but it’s almost impossible for a side to make the grand final, let alone win it, from outside the top four.

Anyone finishing ninth or 10th will probably only be making up the numbers in the post-season even if they jag a win or two.

For the teams like the Roosters, Sharks, Titans, Dragons and Warriors, a shortened season is going to make it mathematically harder for them to rise up the ladder - they would likely be able to afford only five more defeats if there are the minimum 13 rounds left in the revised fixture list.

At the other end of the ladder, teams like Parramatta, Newcastle, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Penrith - who each started their premiership campaigns with back-to-back wins, they are theoretically only six wins away from locking up a finals berth if it’s a 15-round regular season.


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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