The NRL finals system is the finals series that is currently being used by the National Rugby League competitions of Australia and New Zealand since 2012. The NRL finals system replaced the McIntyre system which was used from 1999 to 2011.
A similar system was previously used by the Australian Rugby League in the 1995 and 1996 seasons, however there was no crossover in 1995, and in 1996 teams crossed over in Week 2, rather than Week 3. The system has also been adopted by the Victorian Football League and a slightly modified version adopted by Super League. The Australian Football League (AFL) also use this system and have done so since 2000.
The highest-ranked eight teams at the end of the regular season participate in a four-week tournament, with two teams eliminated in each of the first three weeks. The seventh team is eliminated (and the premiership awarded) in the grand final.
The system is designed to give the top four teams an easier road to the grand final than the second four teams. The top four needs to win only two finals to reach the grand final, while the second four needs to win three; and, two of the top four teams receive a bye in the second week of the playoff and then play at home in the third week, while the other two play at home in the second week.
|Qualifying / Elimination finals||Semi-finals||Preliminary finals||Grand final|
|QF1: 1st qualifying final|
|4||4th||Away||SF1: 1st semi-final|
|Loser of QF1||Home|
|EF1: 1st elimination final||Winner of EF1||Away||PF1: 1st preliminary final|
|5||5th||Home||Winner of QF1|
|8||8th||Away||Winner of SF1||GF: NRL Grand Final - ANZ Stadium|
|Winner of PF1|
|EF2: 2nd elimination final||PF2: 2nd preliminary final||Winner of PF2|
|6||6th||Home||Winner of SF2|
|7||7th||Away||SF2: 2nd semi-final||Winner of QF2|
|Winner of EF2||Away|
|QF2: 2nd qualifying final||Loser of QF2||Home|
The eight finalists are split into two groups for the opening week of the finals series. The top four teams have the best chance of winning the premiership and play the two qualifying finals. The winners get a bye through to week three of the tournament to play home preliminary finals, while the losers play home semi-finals in week two. The bottom four teams play the two elimination finals, where the winners advance to week two away games and the losers' seasons are over. The scheduling of each of the four games is at the discretion of the NRL.
The NRL Grand Final is held every year at Stadium Australia in week four of the finals.
Under this finals system, the final eight teams are broken up into four groups of two. Each group of two earns one extra benefit over the teams beneath it. These benefits are home ground finals and the double-chance, whereby a first-week loss will not eliminate the team from the finals. Note that the "home" designations may be irrelevant for games played between teams from the same state - all finals games played between two Sydney based teams will be held at Allianz Stadium or ANZ Stadium, regardless of the "home" team's home ground.
First and second receive the double-chance, and will play their first two finals matches at home: their qualifying final, and then either a semi-final if they lose their qualifying final or a preliminary final if they win their qualifying final. They need to win two finals to reach the grand final.
Third and fourth also receive the double-chance, but receive only one finals match at home: either a semi-final if they lose their qualifying final or a preliminary final if they win their qualifying final. They need to win two finals to reach the grand final.
Fifth and sixth receive one home final: their elimination final. They need to win three finals to reach the grand final.
Seventh and eighth receive no home finals. They need to win three finals to reach the grand final.
Drawn games can not occur in the NRL finals system. In the event of tied scores at the end of the 80 minutes of a rugby league match, extra time and golden point will take place.
The new finals system was introduced after the 2011 season, after debate had raged for several years before that. In 2008 for the first time ever the 8th placed team (New Zealand Warriors) beat the 1st placed team (Melbourne Storm) in week one of the finals. In 2009, the scenario occurred for the 2nd time ever when the Parramatta Eels defeated the St. George Illawarra Dragons. In both case, these teams then went on to have home advantage in the second week of the finals, leading to criticism from fans and pundits that too much of an advantage was being given to lower placed teams. However, under the current system the 7th and 8th placed teams can never have a home finals match - a move which seems designed to eliminate the possibility of a team making a late charge towards the grand final despite finishing relatively low in the regular season. This has led to criticism that the current system has rendered having a top 8 pointless because some of the teams are there simply to make up numbers as it has been made far too difficult for them to progress very far into the finals series. Despite this, in 2017, the eight-placed North Queensland Cowboys were able to reach the grand final, where they were defeated by the minor premiers, the Melbourne Storm.
It has also been noted that criticism of the previous McIntyre System has come primarily from coaches and players after their team has been eliminated from the finals by a lower ranked team. Complaints about the system from teams that have won games they were expected to win seem far less prevalent.