The eighth Immortal Andrew Johns has revealed a plan to ignite round 27 of the season after mass restings again left the final round feeling flat.
While the round kicked off on Thursday with the Storm’s 32-22 win over the Broncos without 22 regular starters but was praised by fans and commentators for the quality of the contest, it was a match largely devoid of stars.
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The Broncos loss has also left the door wide open for the Panthers to take the minor premiership and the $200,000 of prizemoney that comes with it.
A win for the Panthers over the Cowboys on Saturday evening will wrap up a third minor premiership in the past four years as the club chases a third straight premiership season.
But while the Broncos were more than up for the fight on Thursday night, the point remains that the final round is not as good a spectacle as it could be in the final round with all the league’s biggest stars playing rather than resting up for the finals campaign.
Earlier in the week, Daily Telegraph journalist David Riccio said fans buy their tickets to see the best players and that “this mass resting of players is robbing the fans”.
However, it was also argued that finishing in the top four meant that teams had earned the right to rest their players, even if it means essentially throwing a match.
It sparked a discussion as to whether a bye round before finals — like the AFL have had since 2016 — would be a viable option for the NRL.
There have been points raised about broadcast rights and teams resting players regardless of having a week off but Johns believed there should be a huge incentive for teams to chase the minor premiership.
But Johns said he feels like the NRL will establish a bye week in coming seasons with concussion protocols currently an 11-day mandatory stand-down period.
“I think it’s something really they should look at,” Johns said on WWOS The Eighth Immortal.
But he added that he’d like to see the minor premiership to be more incentivised.
The prizemoney has been raised from $100,000 last season to $200,000 in 2023, which would be split by the players and club, but Johns has called for it to be massively increased.
“I think if they bumped it up, maybe have $1 million for the club and $1 million for the players to split amongst themselves so the tight a**es out there would go, ‘Right, I’m gonna get fifty grand, I’ve got a corked thigh, I’m playing, I don’t care’.”
Even if the players split the prizepot with their entire top 30 squad, they would each take home over $30,000 each.
The $200,000 figure has also been criticised after Manly won a newly-added pre-season title after winning just two games which came with a $100,000 prize in 2023, whereas the NRL season runs for 27 gruelling rounds.
Johns said that the minor premiership is almost immediately forgotten, adding he understood why coaches rest their players.
Earlier in the week, Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy admitted he wouldn’t have rested 11 players if they were looking forward to a week off before finals.
Sydney Morning Herald reporter Michael Chammas also asked if the 2019 idea for a Wildcard weekend could help fill in the bye weekend.
With the NRL set to expand to an 18th team in coming years and potentially up to 20 teams in the future, the Wildcard weekend would see the team that finishes 7th play 10th and 8th play 9th, allowing the top six to have a week off.
Chammas said: “The top six teams, it’s very hard to see anyone outside that winning, they get the week off — that’s what they need right now before the finals series.
He added that the 7th and 8th ranked teams are “making up numbers anyway”.
Historically since the NRL scraped the McIntyre system in 2012, only six teams from 5th to 8th have made the preliminary finals with only the 2014 Bulldogs from seventh and 2017 Cowboys from eighth making the grand final in 11 seasons. Six of those seasons have seen the preliminary finals played off between the teams that finished 1-4 on the ladder.
Asked if he liked it, Johns said: “I think it’s a good idea. It sounds very American — it’d great interest.
“Yeah I like it, I really like it.”
Chammas said that it would give the teams down the bottom of the ladder something to chase.
Your move NRL.