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With the Nine Network set to present an extra Friday night game as of next year and Fox Sports recently announcing plans to broadcast Monday night fixtures, I feel it?s timely to look at the quality of Rugby League broadcasts throughout the nation.
I?ve got a mate living in NSW who, like a lot of us, has a heap of spare time on a Saturday afternoon. His jobs are done in the morning and there still has a while before Saturday night warms up. What a perfect time to relax and catch up with some footy. Problem is, like the vast majority of our population he doesn?t have Foxtel. Week after week this leaves him with the choice of an AFL game, or a local Rugby Union clash. Most of the time he chooses to watch the grass grow.
Now I don?t want to turn this into a bash up of other codes. They have their fans, as well as many people who support a range of codes. But considering this is a Rugby League site, let?s focus on the lost opportunity that Saturday afternoon free-to-air TV is for Rugby League.
Some would remember 15-20 years ago when a NSWRL game would be televised live on the ABC on a Saturday. For many of us our most vivid football memories are of returning from playing sport and watching our heroes compete in what was the only live game broadcast at the time. The commentators were different (and in John Peard?s case much funnier) than their commercial colleagues and the coverage ensured Rugby League was presented from more than just one perspective.
Unfortunately this broadcast was a victim of the Super League war in 1996.
That is, of course, not to say that the public is poorly treated by broadcasters at the moment. Non-cable subscribing Rugby League fans will enjoy 3 games a week next year, while those who invest in cable TV will see 4 out of the 5 remaining games live.
The major difficulty I have with the broadcasters, and particularly the free-to-air variant, is that their coverage almost exclusively revolves around the NRL competition. With NSW Premier League, Jim Beam Cup, the Arrive Alive Cup, Jerseys Flegg and Country Premierships being played in NSW every week, the code enjoys a wide variety of competitions. Apart from one hour of highlights of the Arrive Alive Cup finals series, these competitions are ignored by NSW free-to-air stations.
Lucky Queensland Rugby League fans get to see a live QLD Cup game every Saturday afternoon of the season. For NSW fans without cable TV, the only full length non-NRL game that can be seen is the previous weeks QLD Cup game that is replayed on ABC 2 late on Thursday nights. Those who do stay up are often rewarded with some high energy, thrilling football, albeit five days after it was played.
That is why Rugby League fans will welcome the news this week in Rugby League Review that the ABC won?t rule out broadcasting Rugby League again. They are considering a live broadcast of a NSW Premier League clash on Saturday afternoons, pending approval from the NRL and Fox Sports.
This is exactly what Rugby League needs. Fans will be able to watch the many young up-and-coming players develop their games, and study the depth of the various NSW NRL teams. Rugby League in general will be able to showcase itself as more than just a one competition wonder. Young fans (who were previously forced to watch other codes during this timeslot) will learn that Rugby League isn?t always played in stadiums for big money, and close decisions aren?t always judged by a video referee. Once again families will be able to return from various activities and enjoy a game of footy on the national broadcaster.
Perhaps the talk of a national under 20?s competition has encouraged the ABC to increase their involvement in Rugby League. If you care about this, do as my mate has done and write to the decision makers at the ABC and NRL. By all indications they are ready to be convinced.