The Cronulla Sharks blew Newcastle away at the weekend to record their 15th straight win of the season. They have now all but locked up a top 2 finish and in the coming weeks we will know if they are the mninor Premiers for 2016. So why don't they get home a semi?
The Sharks made a formal application to the NRL to allow a semi-final to be played at Southern Cross stadium that has been rejected by the NRL.
If you support Brisbane, Melbourne or North Queensland and your team finishes in the right spot on the ladder, home semi.
If you support a Sydney based club, i.e. the Sharks and your team finishes on the right spot on the ladder you play at ANZ. Let's just say for arguments sake the Sharks win the minor premiership and the Bulldogs finish in 4th. The semi-final would be played at ANZ and the Bulldogs would get enough support to at least nullify out the home ground advantage. In fact the Dogs have enough of a supporter base that they could almost make it a home semi for themselves (theoretically).
Let's say for argument sake the Sharks finished 1st and their opponent was from interstate, the Broncos for example. The semi-final would probably only draw about 25-30 000 fans, whereas a home semi at Shark park would be busting at the seams and they would still get about 22 000. And dare I say there would be much more feeling around. I have sat in big stadiums that have been a quarter to half full and there is just no atmosphere. For the fans sake it is better to be at a smaller ground at capacity.
Finally let's just look at the advantage of finishing as the minor premier. When we used to have a top 5 in the NRL (or the ARL) there was a benefit to finishing first in that you automatically got week 1 of the finals off and went straight to the preliminary final. The way the new format works is you really only need finish top 2 and even then it could be said top 4 is enough, because no one in the top 4 can be eliminated first week of the finals and if you aren't playing at home anyway what difference does it make. So what incentive is their to bust your gut and finish minor premiers.
so much of winning a premiership comes down to how fresh your roster is. and if it doesn't reall ymatter if you finish 1st or 4th, because you wont get home ground advantage anyway there could be something said for Flannagan to use a tactic of beginning to rest players so they could be as fresh as possible come September.
There needs to be some incentive. That incentive could be all teams who finish 2-8 have to play at neutral grounds and the minor premier gets the first week at home. This way the team that is the best side in the regular season gets some reward for being so.
For now it seems the NRL are staying firm to their stadium strategy in the hope they 50 000+ for the semi-final.
I just don't see it happening.