NRL CEO Todd Greenberg during the NRL Finals series launch at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Monday, September 3, 2018. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg has declared that this month's highly-anticipated finals series will be better for the early-season crackdown that engulfed the code.
After one of the most unpredictable years in memory, the NRL's top-eight will enter the finals with just one win separating them for the first time in history.
Opposing players struggled to pick a favourite when quizzed at the competition's finals launch on Monday, while only Cronulla, Brisbane and the Warriors enter with back-to-back wins.
Having endured ongoing backlash at the start of the season for increased penalty counts, Greenberg is confident this year's finals will be a better product as a result of it.
"There's absolutely no doubt that the work we did on the play-the-ball and the work we did on the compliance of the 10 metres has given us a better game at the end of the year," Greenberg told AAP.
"You have to go through some short-term pain, which is what we did, but ... we had to make some change.
"When you make change people don't like it but we did it for the right reasons and I'm really pleased with where we're at leading into the finals series."
Penalties are down across the NRL over the past four rounds, with three less blown per game in the month before finals compared to the first month of the competition.
Greenberg's comments are similar to that of NRL referees' boss Bernard Sutton earlier this year, who pointed to State of Origin as an example of the free-flowing standard the game can now reach after the crackdown.
"Referees will still blow penalties when they're warranted but I think players and coaches have a complete understanding now of what's required," Greenberg said.
The closeness of this year's title race is highlighted by the fact that previous to 2018 the closest ever points spread between the top eight teams in the competition was seven in 1980.
"For fans who support their club, if you're first or your eighth, I think there is all the fans think there is a reason to think they can win the comp this year," Greenberg said.
"The salary cap doesn't win too many friends but what it does is gives you a very close competition which is what we're dealing with now in September."
Minor premiers the Sydney Roosters enter the finals as favourites - as they go into the finals equal on points with Melbourne, South Sydney and Cronulla in the top four.
"I don't think I've played in a competition or played in a finals series where the race for the top four positions or even the top eight has been so close," Melbourne captain Cameron Smith said.
"To have the top four teams finish on the same amount of points is quite unbelievable."
© AAP 2018