Almanac Rugby League – The near demise of the McIntyre finals system

Let me be upfront about this – I don’t like the McIntyre finals system and believe it to be inherently flawed.

The potential (as occurred this season) for the opening week finals matches involving sides three to six to be rendered all but moot by the top two sides winning their games is highly irritating. However, that is not my primary gripe. To understand my main concern, we need a visit from the ghosts of finals past and present; specifically the 1998 AFL, 2005 NRL and 2011 NRL finals series.

From 1994 to 1998, the AFL used the McIntyre system. You may recall the 1998 Adelaide Crows finishing fifth on the ladder and losing by 48 points in finals week one. Rather than headed for Mad Monday, as should occur when a fifth-placed side gets belted in a final, they won the premiership. By 1999 Eddie McGuire had lifted the NRL’s final eight system, conned the Melbourne media into dubbing it the “McGuire System” without giving the NRL due credit (don’t get me started on this) and saw it used from 1999 to the current day.

For reasons beyond my comprehension the NRL went the other way, dropping its own system for the McIntyre model. You may also recall that in 2005 my beloved Cowboys finished fifth and copped a 50-6 mauling from the Tigers in the opening finals week. Yet they returned to take on the same side three weeks later in the Grand Final. Were it not for some Benji Marshall magic, the McIntyre system may have reached its nadir then and there.

Instead we arrive at the 2011 Grand Final to watch Manly take on the Warriors, a side who finished sixth on the ladder and lost 40-10 to Brisbane in the opening finals week. As a devout Queenslander, I would cheer for most overseas countries (and possibly some other planets, if it ever came to that) in matches against New South Wales sides. Throw in the distraction it would cause the Rugby World Cup (a vastly inferior sport to league, but you already knew that) and the possibility that a Warriors win may spell the end of the McIntyre system and my support was firmly thrown behind the protagonists from the Shaky Isle.

My lopsided Warriors support was tempered somewhat as we watched the New South Wales and Toyota Cup finals. Following on from the AFL Grand Final the day previous, they acted as a timely reminder of how difficult premiership deciders are to even make, let alone win. Manly were certainly the more deserving participant in this match given their season to date; ergo they would most likely be the more deserving winner.

The early exchanges were somewhat scrappy, no doubt affected by the intermittent rain that had been hitting Sydney all weekend. The Warriors opened the scoring with a penalty goal from James Maloney but a Daly Cherry-Evans inside ball to a flying Brett Stewart in the 30th minute saw the Sea Eagles Hit the front, before Cherry-Evans crossed the stripe himself just before half time to make it a ten-point lead at the break.

Manly controlled minutes 41 to 60 of the match as well, culminating in a tremendous inside pass from Will Hopoate as he headed for the sideline to an unmarked Glenn Stewart who dived over to extend the lead to 18-2.

Around this point I started to get flashbacks to the 2009 decider, where the upstart challenger (Parramatta) rode a wave of support to the final, only to spend much of the game being dominated by a much higher-ranked team (Melbourne). The corollary to 2009 was completed when the underdog Warriors fought back into the contest with tries to Manu Vatuvei and Elijah Taylor before Manly shut the door, with a final try to Jamie Lyon icing the proverbial cake. The superior side over much of the season had been the superior side for much of the match and deserved their victory.

As a spectator with no vested interest in the outcome, the match never hit the heights necessary to make it a truly memorable Grand Final. Nor did the result lend itself to the outcry against the McIntyre finals system that I had hoped – we’ll almost certainly see the same system rolled out for 2012. Nonetheless, one of the primary things you want from a premiership decider is for the most worthy premier to emerge, and there is little doubt this occurred. Congratulations to Manly and to all of their fans – may you savour this victory in the weeks and months to come.


MANLY 24 (Tries: B. Stewart, Cherry-Evans, G. Stewart, Lyon Goals: Lyon 3/3, Robertson 1/1)

NEW ZEALAND 10 (Tries: Vatuvei, Taylor Goals: Maloney 1/3)

Venue: ANZ Stadium

Crowd: 81,988

Votes: 3- Daly Cherry-Evans (Man), 2- Glenn Stewart (Man), 1- Anthony Watmough (Man)

About Cliff Bingham

Co-author of The Punters Guide to the 2013 AFL Season & writer for the 2012 Rugby League Almanac.

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