Almanac Rugby League – Nine? Nein

Rugby league’s broadcast right are up for grabs next year and it may be the case that Channel Nine’s 22-year hold on free-to-air league will come to an end. Now, what’s the word I’m searching for here? Schadenfreude? Close, but that’s not quite it. Um, let’s see. Ah yes, I’ve got it. Yippee!

As a Melbourne-based league fan I’ve long loathed Nine (Melbourne) for its treatment of the game. It has given the impression its broadcasting of league is purely a contractual obligation. So it’ll do it but only under duress.

And to get its own back it’ll bury league among its routinely awful late night programming and, in a leap of logic that would do Joseph Heller proud, it’ll use the poor ratings from these matches to justify its decision to broadcast it when it did.

In short, Nine has created the situation where the only league fans who get to watch their favoured code on Nine Melbourne are insomniacs.

Yes, they broadcast the State of Origin and grand final live, but even they can’t weasel out of that one. Still, they get the last word by ending their coverage on such occasions shortly after the final whistle. Watch the NRL grand final on Nine and you don’t get to see the winning team hoist the premiership trophy. If you’re a fan of the winning side, you’ve just been robbed of your money shot. Talk about contempt for the game.

I had high hopes for league coverage in Melbourne with the rise of digital TV. Okay, I conceded, history shows that Nine simply isn’t going to show league live —or anything close to live— on its main channel. So deal with it. But it now has two other channels (one of which, GEM, was used to broadcast cricket on occasion this summer). So that’s three channels and yet Nine still can’t find a better place for the game we love.

Look at the programming for the opening weekend. You’d swear Andrew Demetriou was in charge of scheduling. On Thursday night my mob play an intra club match against the Northern Dragons (otherwise known as the Newcastle Knights), a game that most intriguingly pits the master, Wayne Bennett (with five ex-Dragons in his charge), against his apprentice of three years, Steve Price.

Nine, keeping a lid on its excitement, will be showing the match on its main channel at 1am Friday—after The NRL Footy Show (couldn’t they at least have put the match on first?) and three back-to-back episodes of, you guessed it, CSI.

Meanwhile, over on Go!, we’re served up The Big Bang Theory and the 2001 movie Swordfish which rates only 26% on movie rating website Rotten Tomatoes. Presumably that’s 13% for each of Halle Berry’s breasts which make a fleeting appearance. On GEM, it’s Dirty Dancing. Again. Really, is there anyone left who wants to see this movie but still hasn’t gotten around to it? After 25 years? Besides that, does anyone actually watch movies on television anymore?

On Friday night, it’s more of the same, with the Eels v Broncos match kicking off at midnight. On Sunday, we’re actually served up a live match —but only because the Manly v Warriors game starts at midday. So, really, it’s a mirage, a fleeting fancy. No doubt, normal programming will soon resume.

So bring on the new TV deal and let’s hope that Nine is shown the door and someone else will do a better job. Won’t be hard.



  1. Niall Connolly says

    You are too kind to 9! The real reason that the Warriors-Manly game was broadcast live and not at 4 PM (in Sydney) was because of the cricket final starting at 2 PM. They had originally intended to dud everybody with a massive four-hour delay (while New Zealand viewers were able to watch it live on Sky. Can I also say that the Sky commentary (I watched the game later as well on Foxtel) was immeasurably superior to the 9 commentary. Surprisingly so, as I usually expect from New Zealand commentators the same level of evenhandedness that you get from Mike Stephenson and Eddie Hemmings when calling Test matches or World Club Challenge matches in England. I note that at 3:45 PM on Sunday in Melbourne 9 was showing a movie from 1957 on GEM. Surely there is room for the delayed 4 PM telecast? I hope the new broadcast deal reflects the fact that as much is possible, fans want to watch games live and in the highest available definition. Online subscription to live games in Australia and New Zealand also needs to be on the table.

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