Tuesday 26 September 2017 / 10:13 AM

HOME ADVANTAGE HOLDS KEY IN SUDDEN-DEATH SEMIS

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.

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.

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.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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