Intrust Super Cup: intriguing, interesting, exciting and relevant

Intrigue, interest, excitement and relevance.

That is what the Intrust Super Cup’s new top eight format has already brought to the competition as the race to play finals football likely to be in the balance right up until the final round game on September 1.

The change from a top six finals series to a top eight contest by the Queensland Rugby League is already looking like a smart option.

Before last weekend’s round just two points separated first from seventh; two points also separated eighth placed Mackay Cutters from last placed PNG Hunters.

That changed with the weekend’s results, where the Ipswich Jets, courtesy of an away win over the Hunters, moved to sole occupancy of eighth spot on six competition points; but there is just a four-point gap between them and last placed CQ Capras  - nearly a third of the way through the season.

There is still a 14-team race for finals berths.

What does the change in format mean and has it brought any benefits?

Jets chairman Steve Johnson, in charge of the eighth placed team right now, said several positive outcomes had already eventuated.

"The idea behind the top eight when it was introduced was to create more interest for clubs deeper into the year and it is certainly going to achieve that," Johnson said.

"We have always had a close competition and at the Walker brothers era at the Jets since 2011, we have always finished in the top eight.

"When there was a top six, we felt there were the two years (2016 and 2017) that we missed out on the semis where we had a very good back end of the year but never made the finals.

"If we had made it, we could have shook the place up a bit.

"The top eight gives you a chance to still take part in finals even though you have injuries, as we do now where we have only 15 fully fit players in a squad of 28.

There are plenty of sides that can click and win five, six or seven games in a row and make a late run."

QRL statewide competitions manager Dave Maiden said the change of format had the buy-in from clubs, both as a concept and financially.

Instead of having six finals matches all-up this year, there will be nine, as is the case with the NRL.

"Having a top eight was actually something raised by the clubs last year... they wanted to stay relevant for longer," Maiden said.

"It keeps the fans engaged for longer and people interested in our game and our product; as we are a statewide competition, it is important for us to keep our fans as engaged as we can for as long as possible.

"The clubs have foregone some of their grant funding to make sure we could fund it because it will cost probably an extra $25,000 to $30,000 to fund the additional finals games, but the clubs viewed that as an investment in the game and were willing to support it."

For broadcaster Channel Nine, and clubs, the top eight system will retain interest and engagement from viewers and supporters.

Redcliffe Dolphins fans during the 2018 Intrust Super Cup grand final. Photo: QRL Media
Redcliffe Dolphins fans during the 2018 Intrust Super Cup grand final. Photo: QRL Media

Johnson said "we don’t want to go to a format where you get to the back end of the year and sides have young men getting their chance to be exposed to the NRL, and no-one watches, which will happen if you are not in finals contention". 

"So the top eight also means that players don’t miss out on pathway opportunities, which they would if no-one is watching them have a crack," Johnson said.

"It balances out a lot of inequalities in the game.

"OK, we have a 14-team competition with the top eight going through, but that will rationalise very quickly in the first week of finals."

There is also the opportunity for a side to scrape into the top eight and go on a run through to the finals or create an upset early on, as the Jets did last year.

"Last year we were sixth and went up to the cemetery that is called Jack Manski Oval and came away with a victory (over the Townsville Blackhawks) - you are going to get those Cinderella stories that adds to the fan base, the game and the viewing audience," Johnson said.

"Who wouldn’t want to see a side come from eighth to win the competition?"

Maiden agreed no side could bank competition points until the 80th minute each week.

"It highlights the even nature of the competition across the board," Maiden said.

"You’ve got last year’s premiers Redcliffe sitting in 11th... it is phenomenal that the teams are sitting so close and on any given day, anyone can win," Maiden said.

"Every result and every points differential has ramifications on the table, so it is great for us and certainly assists with our TV games because everyone is relevant. It is exciting."

The Intrust Super Cup is also proving its relevance at bringing through the next crop of NRL stars.

Last year the likes of David Fifita, Jake Clifford and Payne Haas all won NRL debuts based largely on their form in the Cup where they showed they could compete against men and more than hold their own.

This year we have seen Thomas Flegler and Patrick Carrigan get their debuts for the Brisbane Broncos after firing last year with Souths Logan and Wynnum Manly respectively.

Pat Carrigan in action for Wynnum in 2018. Photo: QRL Media
Pat Carrigan in action for Wynnum in 2018. Photo: QRL Media

Cory Paix (Redcliffe) and Thomas Dearden (Wynnum Manly) have already won Hastings Deering Man of the Match awards this year and will no doubt get their chance for the Broncos at some stage in the weeks, months or year ahead.