After changes to the NRL Top 8 finals format from last year; 2007 will see an added bonus for the top 2 ranked teams that win in the first week of NRL finals football. After a week off, the Top 2 ranked teams get to host another home ground final prior to the grand final the following week.
So while the Melbourne Storm and the Manly Sea Eagles have positions 1 and 2 sewn up – they still need to win in week 1 to gain the additional home ground advantage for their 3rd week matches after their week off.
For teams 3 and 4 – they will be sweating on the Top 2 ranked teams losing. For example if the Cowboys or Warriors claim 3rd or 4th they too can not only host a home final in week 1, but if the top 2 teams stumble (ie: Manly or Melbourne lose in week 1) – the Cowboys and Warriors would both get a week off and return to play in the 3rd week out of their home bases in North Queensland and Auckland respectively.
The value of this additional finals carrot is obviously extremely attractive to teams finishing in the Top 4 – so expect to see some monumental clashes in the coming weeks as the Cowboys, Bulldogs, Eels and Warriors fight it out for 3rd and 4th position. We are in for a treat of Rugby League over the next month and a half.