Group Nine president Jack Morton backs top four finals system ahead of meeting with clubs

Group Nine maintains a top four finals series is its preferred option for next season but clubs will have the chance to push for a top five at an important meeting next week.

The league is again looking at a 10-team, 16-game competition but is keen to push the start and finish of the season back a couple of weeks.

The 2018 season came to an icy close when the three-week finals series started on August 18 and culminated on September 1. But the prospect of a top five, including an extra week of finals and two extra games, doesn’t appeal to president Jack Morton.

“It’ll be up for debate. We (Group Nine board) certainly favour the top four because in the last 11 years no-one has ever won it from fifth spot,” Morton said. “I can’t see the point in a side playing in finals when you’ve lost more games during the year than you’ve won. I don’t think that makes for good footy at all.”

Last season, the fifth placed teams in first grade, reserve grade and Leaguetag all won more games than they lost. In the under 18s and under 16s competitions (which have fewer teams) the fifth-placed sides had more losses than wins.

Morton dismissed suggestions that rewarding five teams in each grade with a finals berth is extra incentive for clubs and players. 

“The fourth team this year went straight out... the answer to a lot of it is quality instead of quantity,” Morton said. “When you start a season, every club has the same amount of home games and away games. Every club has the opportunity to run one to four. Nobody cheats, nobody’s stopping them. You run in the four, you’ll get a crack at finals.”

The finals format, season duration, and questions over whether under 16s should move to the junior competition and an additional grade of Leaguetag be introduced, will all be on the agenda at a meeting of clubs next Tuesday, a month out from the Group Nine AGM. The league hopes to have the draw and finals decisions finalised next week.

Preliminary plans are to kick-off the season on the last weekend in April - a week after Easter and two weeks later than last season - for a mid-September grand final, in the hope of running into better weather at the business end.

Morton all but ruled out extending the season by having an 18-game draw with all teams playing everyone else twice.

“No, hopefully never,” Morton said. “It’s just too long. It destroys clubs that have got no chance at the end of the season.”

He said clubs have played 16 games a season for more than a decade and doesn’t accept that a full home-and-away schedule makes for a fairer draw.

THAT FINALS FEELING: The Under 18s Cherrypickers who won the premiership this season. Photo: Rebecca Goodlock.

THAT FINALS FEELING: The Under 18s Cherrypickers who won the premiership this season. Photo: Rebecca Goodlock.