Yes, I can hear the moans from a mile away. Lock me up in a padded cell, throw away the keys. Well to all the doubting thomas� in here, all I can say is sit down, shut up and listen for a second!
The fourth year of the new millennium (or third, depending on what calendar you follow) has seen a nationalising of the competition on a scale that has not been seen before. As we waltzed into week one of the finals, we have the situation where teams from Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Auckland are involved. But according to the Moffo calendar, only one of the nine finals games will be played outside of Sydney. Only one. Is this a fair deal for the season ticket holders from all the different cities that have paid up all year yet only to be denied access to the finals unless they hop on a plane, train or automobile?
Sure, the purists will say that rugby league has a home in Sydney. And indeed, it is where most of the teams in the NRL have come from. However, it is unwise to live in the past, especially for a group such as the NRL that is in such fierce competition from Rugby Union, AFL and a variety of other entertainment pastimes. The closest comparision to the NRL in Australia is AFL. As well all know, the home of AFL in Australia is well and truly in Melbourne. The punters down there live and eat football. Open up a Melbourne rag on a Sunday morning and there will be 20 pages of AFL. You catch my drift.
Guess how many finals games there will be in Melbourne this year? Three! Only 33% of matches will be played in Melbourne, with other games being shared around Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney. Sure, the purists are not happy, but every person who follows the code from Fremantle to Fairfield will have access to �finals footy�. However, for NRL, if you�re not in the space that encompasses Sydney to Canberra, you won�t be seeing another game until March next year
Many will say that the finals fixtures depend on the performance of the teams during the regular season. Certainly, there is some merit in that argument. And it�s true, that in 2003, the teams outside of the �heartlands� have dominated their respective competitions. But irrespective of what happens over the next three weeks, there will still be four games played at the SFS or Stadium Australia. In all likelihood, there may well be a Melbourne/Brisbane game held in Sydney. Would Sydney people care? Would it draw a crowd? If Melbourne (or Brisbane for that matter), had performed well for the whole year, then why shouldn�t they have the ability to play a game at home? How can we further the code if we continue to starve these cities of finals footy?
And being the solutions man that I am, I have one. Whinging without a resolution is rather pointless after all! Consequently, I propose that finals footy (in week 2 at least) should be played at the home ground of the highest place team in the match. If results go to the ladder rankings this year, then it would be Canterbury v Melbourne and Canberra v Warriors in week two of the finals. As it stands at the moment, both of these games would be played at the SFS next week. Yet look closer and you will see that only one team comes from Sydney. Furthermore, I think that Canberra/Warriors in the ACT will draw a lot more people then the game being staged at the SFS.
However, for the time being, the grand final should remain at Stadium Australia. Quite simply, it would be embarrassing to play the grand final at a venue that can only hold 20,000. And I do believe that for most fans, they wouldn�t mind travelling the thousand kilometres if their team was in the grand finale!
Surely it�s just a logical solution; hopefully the powers that be will listen up. Quite simply, it�s time to modernise the finals system.
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