Proving that there’s no end to the rugby league news cycle, there’s been rumours of a new 18-team conference system, with a Sydney-based conference and an interstate/outer Sydney conference.
While it sounds cromulent on paper, and would promote more Sydney rivalries, interstate teams would be impacted, and it would probably rule out an all-Sydney (or even an all-Queensland) grand final.
Never fear, as Nothing But League has an alternative system. While it may not be perfect, it’s based on performance and would see a lot more variety from season-to-season.
The Nothing But League proposal would see a Top Nine conference and a Bottom Nine conference. This idea was previously used in a Forward Pass article, but this more serious version doesn’t factor in Origin/other rep footy breaks and has everyone playing each other at least once, as opposed to two separate competitions.
The 18-team competition would be divided into three lots:
PART A: INTRA-CONFERENCE ROUND ONE
The first lot of intra-conference matches, with the Top Nine and Bottom Nine teams playing each other once. There will be eight games each round: four games and one bye for each conference.
PART B: INTER-CONFERENCE GAMES
The Top Nine and Bottom Nine conferences cross over, with teams playing each other once. There are no byes during this period and nine games each round.
PART C: INTRA-CONFERENCE ROUND TWO
The second lot of intra-conference games. Again, there will be eight games each round, with one bye for each conference (so each team has two byes).
At the end of the regular season, the top five teams from the Top Nine and the top four teams from the Bottom Nine will automatically enter the Top Nine conference for the following season. The bottom nine teams will make up the Bottom Nine conference.
The Top Nine conference will have a top five finals series, and the Bottom Nine conference will have a top four finals series, which will work as below:
FINALS WEEK ONE
Minor Preliminary Semi-Final: 4 v 5.
Major Preliminary Semi-Final: 2 v 3.
FINALS WEEK TWO
Minor Semi-Final: loser Major PSF v winner Minor PSF.
Major Semi-Final: 1 v winner Major PSF (winner straight to grand final).
Elimination Final: 3 v 4
Qualifying Final: 1 v 2 (winner straight to grand final).
FINALS WEEK THREE
Preliminary Final: loser Major SF v winner Minor SF
Preliminary Final: loser Qualifying Final v winner Elimination Final.
FINALS WEEK FOUR
Grand Final: winner Major SF v winner Preliminary Final (to be played in the highest-ranked team’s home state).
Grand Final: winner Qualifying Final v winner Preliminary Final (to be played in the highest-ranked team’s home state).
INTER-CONFERENCE GRAND FINAL
Top Nine conference Grand Final winner v Bottom Nine conference Grand Final winner (Stadium Australia, NSW).
SO, WHY WILL THIS WORK?
- The best teams will play each other twice, which means better-quality footy, better content for broadcasters, more interest for fans, and hopefully less blowouts. The “weaker” teams will play more evenly-matched opponents too.
- Based on rankings, we should still get our blockbuster Sydney and Queensland derbies at least once a year, if not twice, as well as an all-Sydney or all-Queensland grand final.
- There’s a genuine reason for the bottom nine teams to improve, as they can win a spot in the higher conference.
- There will be more competition in the Top Nine conference, with the bottom four teams facing relegation.
- There should be more movement between conferences, keeping the concept fresh. Unless a team is consistently good or consistently bad, there should be decent traffic in-between conferences.