New system but same mountain to climb

For those teams scrambling for that final spot in the top eight, here's some sobering news: you're playing for a 6.25 per cent shot at winning the premiership.

But there is an upside for the team that comes eighth, with the chances of progressing to the second week of the finals doubling now that the old McIntyre system has been scrapped.

They are just some of the intriguing findings in a new paper published by John Mangan, a professor of economics and associate dean (research) in the faculty of business, economics and law at the University of Queensland.

Mangan's paper, Hope Springs Eternal Among NRL Clubs: The Battle for 8th Spot, looks at the relative chances of the top eight teams now that rugby league has switched from the AFL finals model. His findings include:

Teams eight and seven have a 6.25 per cent and 11.3 per cent chance of winning the competition respectively;

The premiers will most likely come from the top four, with an 80 per cent chance the first or second team will make the grand final;

Teams finishing first and second are worse off under the new system which ''further devalues the worth of being minor premiers or runners-up'';

Team seven has a 50-50 chance of progressing to the second round of the semis - the same as team six.

Mangan, an avid sports fan, has taken a ''sportenomics'' approach. His qualifications include a bachelor of economics, a diploma of education and a master of economic studies from the University of Queensland, as well as a master of arts and a PhD in economics from the University of Lancaster in Britain.

For his paper, commissioned by The Sun-Herald, Mangan studied the AFL and NRL finals systems over the past decade and used results from last year's rugby league play-offs as the basis for his equations. He said teams finishing in the top four had an equal chance of taking the title. ''The minor premiership means bugger all,'' Mangan said. ''It gives you a bit of money but it doesn't help you. The other thing … is that one and two don't come out of this very well. Before, they got an armchair ride to a week off and now they're going to be playing teams on virtually the same number of points as they are in the first round … If the idea is to make it better for the top teams, I'm not sure it does.''

Under the old McIntyre system last year, the Warriors finished sixth and were pumped 40-10 in the opening week of the finals by the third-placed Broncos. However, they upset the fourth-placed Tigers the next week en route to an unlikely grand final appearance. The new model would have immediately eliminated them.

With three competition rounds to go, there could be changes to the top four. However, Mangan predicts Canterbury, Melbourne, South Sydney and Manly will take the top spots. Asked the best position to finish, he said: ''I wouldn't want to be playing Manly. I wouldn't want to finish first.''

The study doesn't take into account home-ground advantage. And Mangan conceded one of the limitations in using season records in algorithms was they didn't account for factors such as late-season form.

''You only have to look at Parramatta's run in 2009,'' he said.

The Eels, who lost to the salary-cap rorting Melbourne Storm that year, came from seventh spot to make the decider. As yet, no one has made the grand final from eighth. As Canberra, Newcastle, Gold Coast and St George Illawarra try to squeeze into that final spot - and a 43 per cent chance of progressing to the next week of the playoffs - there is a chance to make history.

However, as Mangan states: ''The most likely reward for all that effort, at best, is an additional week of football.''

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