By Aaron Callaghan
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Opinion: The NRL Wildcard weekend is not a plausible option.
The Penrith Panthers have reported two pieces of video footage to the NRL Integrity Unit in two weeks, the second of which was reported today, this caps off a horror run of poor player behaviour by NRL players and there is no end in sight.
What better way to #talkthegameup than to distract the media and fans alike from the black eyes and bruises currently weighing down the game of professional rugby league than to re-direct their attention to a new shiny thing over here. Eschewing the risk of my tin foil hat falling off as I scoff at the half-baked idea of a NRL wildcard round but the timing of the release of details is certainly curious and it has everyone talking about something very positive - Foward thinking by the NRL. Conspiracy theories aside, this was a great PR deflection - bravo, bravo.
Before readers think I’m stuck in 1973 and still call it the NSWRL, I am all for innovation and bringing new ideas to the code. These ideas must be entirely fleshed out for the court of public opinion to form credible opinions. It is very prudent leadership and CEO vision to look at what other leagues are doing, what resonates with fans and what could work closer to home.
The problem with a NRL wildcard round is a mathematics equation. Firstly, the already marathon season is extended by a week, player welfare should be a key consideration by all stakeholders. The NRL is a 16 team competition with 50% of the league making the finals and that works well, by adding a wildcard round the finals are opened up, on face value to 10 teams, thirdly its a reward for mediocrity where a middling team with almost certainly a losing record could be awarded a financially valuable finals appearance through the high variance of one elimination game.
For reference - The NFL has 32 teams. A 12 team play off seeding system and four wildcard teams in total. For those playing at home that’s 37.5% of teams participating in the regular season making the playoffs WITH a wildcard playoff. Conversely what the NRL is proposing is 62.5% of teams making some sort of play off.
There are some advantages to the wildcard on the flip side of the coin, if NRL fans get on board with the idea, the wildcard round will increase TV revenue, increase gate revenue and may even trickle down to season membership renewals by selling a fan base on last seasons ‘finals appearance’
I implore the NRL to continue to innovate and present new ideas to the fan base. Perhaps by refining the idea, a wildcard weekend or play in style tournament can become a viable option that becomes a staple of our game.
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