There’s more at stake in the staging of this weekend’s semi-finals at Suncorp Stadium and ANZ Stadium than the NRL’s credibility after a dismal turnout at the three week one fixtures in Sydney, with Brisbane and Parramatta aiming to parlay home-ground advantage into a preliminary final berth.
During the controversial McIntyre Finals System era of 1999-2011, opening-week losers were forced to play away in week two against teams coming off a win – regardless of the sides’ ladder ranking.
Under the less confusing, infinitely fairer current finals format reinstated in 2012, the top-four losers’ second bite at the cherry comes at home – and that edge is set to play a more prominent role this weekend than usual.
Last week’s heart-stopping loss to Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium extended the Broncos’ away losing streak in finals matches – which stretches back to 2009 – to seven matches.
But back in the familiar surrounds of Suncorp Stadium, the Broncos go into Friday’s sudden-death clash with Penrith as hot favourites, having won their last six home finals in a row.
Their most recent post-season defeat in Brisbane was the agonising last-minute loss to Melbourne in 2008.
— Eden Richards (@Eden_Richards) September 11, 2017
The Panthers’ finals record is equally compelling. The club has only played three finals matches outside Sydney – all in Canberra and all resulting in losses to the Raiders, in 1997, 2000 and 2016.
The mountain men are an adequate 5-7 on the road in 2017 (1-2 interstate), but the Broncos’ imposing 10-3 record at Suncorp this year shapes as a decisive factor as both teams fight to stay alive in the premiership race.
Likewise, North Queensland – unbeaten in seven finals matches in Townsville – have an unflattering September record as the visiting team. The Cowboys have won just two of their last 10 finals away from home, with one of those victories essentially at a neutral ground, against the Broncos in the 2015 grand final.
Encouragingly ahead of their Saturday night assignment against the Eels, the Cowboys are on a five-match winning streak at ANZ Stadium – after enduring a nine-match drought at the game’s headquarters from 2007-13.
The Eels have no recent finals history to draw upon, this year qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The club has a 10-6 record in Sydney-hosted finals in the NRL era, but curiously the Eels are only 3-5 against out-of-town teams in those matches.
The blue-and-golds do have a superb record at ANZ Stadium – their temporary home ground while Parramatta Stadium undergoes an upgrade – to fall back on though, winning 11 of their 14 games at the venue in 2017, and 15 of 19 games over the past two seasons.
No excuses. If you are a Parramatta Eels fan, I best be seeing you at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.
— LadiesWhoLeague 🌈 (@LadiesWhoLeague) August 28, 2017
Whether or not these figures are enough to load up on the Broncos and Eels, it’s clear home-ground advantage puts the week one losers in the box-seat to bounce back this weekend.