The NRL finals are finally here and the fans in regional Queensland are being rewarded with all four matches being played in the Sunshine State.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said the ARL Commission wanted to reward regional Queensland for the role they have played in keeping the season going and matches have been scheduled for the Sunshine Coast, Townsville and Rockhampton.
ARL Commissioner Kate Jones joined the captains from the eight remaining teams at Suncorp Stadium on Monday to officially launch the NRL finals series.
Jones said the venue for the grand final on October 3 is likely to be announced later this week.
The eventual make-up of the Telstra Premiership playoffs came down to the last day of the 25th and final round with the Titans edging out the Sharks for eighth spot after trouncing the ill-disciplined Warriors 44-0.
In the week-one qualifying finals, the Storm will face Manly while Penrith and third-placed South Sydney. The winners of these games go straight to the preliminary finals in week three.
The losers of those two games will take on the winners of the week-one elimination finals.
Sixth-placed Parramatta meet seventh-placed Newcastle in one elimination final with the Roosters taking on Gold Coast in the other sudden-death playoff.
Finals week 1 schedule
Friday, September 10
Qualifying final: Melbourne v Manly, 7.50pm at Sunshine Coast Stadium
Saturday, September 11
Elimination final: Sydney Roosters v Gold Coast, 5.40pm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Qualifying final: Penrith v South Sydney, 7.50pm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Sunday, September 12
Elimination final: Parramatta v Newcastle, 4.05pm at Browne Park, Rockhampton
Don't blink: It's NRL finals time
Abdo said rugby league was "part of the social fabric" of the communities chosen to host matches in week one.
"We’re excited to reward them for that support by hosting the first week of our finals series," he said.
"Through adversity comes opportunity and we’re delighted to give back to these regions with the rare opportunity to host semi-final games. We’re also continuing to work with the Queensland Government about playing in regional Queensland for week two."
With 13 teams relocating to South-East Queensland for the last few months of the regular season, Abdo thanked the clubs, players and officials for the way they have handled the upheaval.
"This has been an incredibly challenging year, but like we did in 2020, the game has come together and we have found a way to keep our competition going which is a great outcome for our fans, many of whom are experiencing lockdowns.
"I can’t wait for the series to start. Clearly Melbourne and Penrith have been outstanding through the regular season, but we saw only a week ago that Parramatta defeated the Storm - a number of teams have found form at the right time of the year to set up the series perfectly.
"This will be a very unique finals series knowing that teams will not have the usual home ground advantage. It will be especially important for members and supporters of the teams in Queensland to attend the games and give their teams the edge at a home away from home."
Melbourne edged out Penrith to snare the minor premiership on Friday night with their win over the Sharks, while the Sea Eagles clinched fourth spot ahead of the Roosters on Saturday night by beating the Cowboys in Townsville.
Gold Coast needed to down the Warriors at Cbus Super Stadium by 11 points or more to finish with a better for-and-against record than Cronulla and the Titans achieved the feat in style at Cbus Super Stadium.
How do the finals work?
The teams that finished in the top eight positions on the Telstra Premiership ladder after 25 rounds will play out the finals series, as follows.
Qualifying finals: 1st v 4th; 2nd v 3rd
Elimination finals: 5th v 8th; 6th v 7th
Semi-finals: Loser of first qualifying final v winner of first elimination final; loser of second qualifying final v winner of second elimination final
Preliminary finals: Winner of first qualifying final v winner of second semi-final; Winner of second qualifying final v winner of first semi-final
Grand final: Winner of first preliminary final v winner of second preliminary final