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NRL finals series
Current season, competition or edition:
Current sports event 2023 NRL finals series
SportRugby league
No. of teams8
Most recent
Penrith Panthers (4th title)
(2022 NRL finals series)
Most titlesSouth Sydney Rabbitohs (21 titles)
TV partner(s)Channel 9
Fox League

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.[1][2]

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, in order to reward regular season success. 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.

Current system

See also: AFL final eight system

Qualifying and elimination finalsSemi-finalsPreliminary finalsGrand Final
1st qualifying final
44thAway1st semi-final
Loser of QF1Home
1st elimination finalWinner of EF1Away1st preliminary final
55thHomeWinner of QF1
88thAwayWinner of SF2NRL Grand FinalStadium Australia
Winner of PF1
2nd elimination final2nd preliminary finalWinner of PF2
66thHomeWinner of SF1
77thAway2nd semi-finalWinner of QF2
Winner of EF2Away
2nd qualifying finalLoser of QF2Home

Finals format

Week one

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.

Week two

Week three

Week four

Extra time

In the event of tied scores at the end of the 80 minutes of a rugby league match, two five minute periods of extra time occur. If the scores are not then settled, an unlimited period of golden point will take place. This ensures that none of the matches are draws.[4] Before 2016, the match went straight into golden point time. This most notably occurred in the 2015 NRL Grand Final, when the North Queensland Cowboys defeated the Brisbane Broncos thanks to a Johnathan Thurston field goal. This triggered the change as despite the Cowboys kicking off, due to Ben Hunt knocking the ball on off the kick-off, the Broncos didn't get to play a set with the ball.

Advantages for ladder positions

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 Accor Stadium, regardless of the "home" team's home ground.

First and second

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

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

Fifth and sixth receive one home final: their elimination final. They need to win three finals to reach the grand final.

Seventh and eighth

Seventh and eighth receive no home finals. They need to win three finals to reach the grand final.


In the first week of finals, the higher ranked team from the regular season hosts at their regular home ground. In the second week, the higher ranked team again hosts; however, Sydney teams must host at one of the major stadiums, those being Western Sydney Stadium, the Sydney Cricket Ground, the New Sydney Football Stadium, and Stadium Australia. In the third week of finals, the qualifying final winner hosts, again if it's a Sydney team, at one of those major venues.[5] The NRL Grand Final is then held every year at Stadium Australia in week four of the finals.

The Sydney Cricket Ground has hosted the most finals clashes, followed by the Sydney Football Stadium and Stadium Australia.[6]


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.[7] 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.[8][9]

See also


  1. ^ NRL finals system changed, official website, 22 February 2012
  2. ^ NRL quits McIntyre system, adopts AFL-style finals, Fox Sports Australia, 22 February 2012
  3. ^ a b Under the NRL finals system, the term "semi-final" has different usage to that a traditional knock out tournament. The two games played immediately before the grand final, which would be known as semi-finals in a knockout tournament, are called "preliminary finals". The semi-finals refer to the two games preceding the preliminary finals. This is consistent with the terminology used by the league under the McIntyre system from 1931 until 1993.
  4. ^ "NRL grand final 2018: What happens if the grand final ends in a draw, extra time, golden point". Fox Sports. 30 September 2018. Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  5. ^ "Everything you need to know about the 2019 NRL Finals". National Rugby League. 15 September 2019. Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  6. ^ "NRL Finals – Venues – Rugby League Project". Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  7. ^ "Motorsport Video |Motorsport Highlights, Replays, News, Clips".
  8. ^ "Cleary slams NRL finals system as Warriors bounced out". Stuff. 11 September 2010.
  9. ^ "Lockyer no fan of finals system". 7 September 2009.