The NRL released the draw for the final six rounds of the season, and all it did was essentially delay the inevitable. The inevitable meaning plenty of all Sydney clashes, but you get used to that.
Yes it’s easy to highlight Channel Nine’s failures all the time and harp on about it, but they do tend to make it easy to find fault. And yes I have Fox Sports now and that has been a recent and most welcome addition, and I have become a Fox Sports NRL snob as a result.
So since I have the best coverage why should I care? Well, I still feel for the League fans who don’t and despise Channel Nine’s selfish running of the game. And sport in general.
Yes Channel Nine paid a large sum of money to obtain the TV rights, so of course there are commercial obligations and ratings for them to think about, but should that be the first priority and first concern?
Yes, the Sydney market is important, but should a 11th v 15th or 13th v 16th or even 14th v 16th match take centre stage over clashes that are likely to affect the finals outcomes, or even entertain league fans instead of watching two struggling teams battle for the better position in the bottom half of the table?
While league position shouldn’t always be the main factor, as premium clashes based on great rivalries are usually good viewing, surely heading into the finals it should take some precedence over an ordinary clash between two teams in the bottom four that have no great rivalry like Souths and Newcastle?
The reason for leaving the draw for the last six rounds until now was so that the best choices could be made heading into the finals, and looking through the selections of the games, it has the same familiar bias and choices as the previous 20 weeks’ selections.
For instance Gus loves his Sunday Football because 13 of the 20 games on the Sunday are in Sydney between two Sydney teams, and that bias towards Sydney teams rather than ladder position continues- although the game in New Zealand in the final Round on a Sunday is quite the surprise.
But it’s not just a Sydney complaint (they do supply nine of the 16 teams) – six of the bottom eight heading into Round 16 were from Sydney, and realistically only three of those are a decent chance of challenging for finals football. So to load up on Sydney clashes only makes commercial sense, and there should be more to it than that if the NRL wants to grow outside the two states.
Analysis of the last six rounds
Average League Position of the teams – 8.8
Top 8 Sides / Bottom 8 Sides – 18 / 18
Top 4 Sides / All Teams – 10 / 36
Bottom 4 Sides / All Teams – 11 / 36
Sydney Team 24 / 36
All Sydney Games – 7 / 18
Three sides don’t feature in the last six rounds – Gold Coast, Canberra, and unbelievably the Sharks, who are on top of the ladder no less. How on earth can a team that lead the competition and are highly likely to finish top four not be given one single game, while teams in the bottom four feature 11 times?
A lost opportunity too is two of the prospective top eight sides, both of whom are on excellent run of form, and arguably play some of the better rugby league at the moment in Gold Coast and Canberra. Their potential progress to the finals will be for Fox Sports fans exclusively.
Full list of teams
Sea Eagles 3
Want more proof of the bias? The NRL website released an article on the Top ten clashes in the final six rounds. How many of those important games are on Free to Air? One.
Lists can be subjective, but after some of the stats above it shows that the NRL has lost a great opportunity to get people in the mood for finals in the last few weeks of the competition.
The main issue with all of the above, and Channel Nine’s selection of games in general, is that they tell us what they think we should watch, telling us about audience preference based on TV ratings, instead of putting faith in the NRL product and just featuring the best league on offer every week.
Hopefully the NRL can get more of a say next year.
Channel 9 games from Round 21 to Round 26
Round 21 Roosters v Broncos
Round 21 Bulldogs v Dragons
Round 21 Manly v Newcastle
Round 22 Dragons v Broncos
Round 22 Parramatta v Manly
Round 22 Tigers v Cowboys
Round 23 Bulldogs v Manly
Round 23 Broncos v Parramatta
Round 23 Roosters v Cowboys
Round 24 Broncos v Bulldogs
Round 24 Penrith v Tigers
Round 24 Roosters v Dragons
Round 25 Bulldogs v Cowboys
Round 25 Melbourne v Broncos
Round 25 Newcastle v Souths
Round 26 Broncos v Roosters
Round 26 Bulldogs v Souths
Round 26 NZ v Parramatta
Note: Positions are as per pre-kick-off of Round 16 and we used current ladder position for Parramatta to save another calculation.