Hands up if you like Penrith?

Yesterday the NRL released the television schedule for the first five rounds of competition and the 2003 Premiers feature heavily on our free-to-air screens. Under the current NRL-television agreement, Channel Nine will show two games per week, both delayed replays, with the match of the round on Friday Night and the runner-up on Sunday afternoon. For those fortunate enough to have Foxtel, then you get live access to at least two Saturday games and one Sunday game, with Fox Sports also having delayed telecasts of the remaining two games of the round the same day. That?s a motza of Rugby League whichever way you slice it. However, despite outcry at apparent team bias for the free-to-air games last year, Channel Nine have stuck to their policy of showing the best games as they see it. In the first five rounds this year, Penrith is Friday Night Footballing it three times (vs. Newcastle, Canberra and Sydney), and if you don?t see them on Friday you get them featured in the Sunday match (vs. New Zealand and Melbourne). So all you Panther fans rejoice, but remember you can?t beat being at the game. For the rest of you sorry folk still trying to come to terms with a failed 2003 campaign, here?s who you?ll see on Free to Air early in 2003. Newcastle (R1 vs. Penrith, Fri; Rd4 vs. St.George-Illawarra, Sun;) Brisbane (Rd1 vs. New Zealand, Sun; Rd2 vs. Parramatta, Sun; Rd5 vs. Sydney, Fri) New Zealand (Rd1 vs. Brisbane, Sun; Rd3 vs. Penrith, Sun;) Canberra (Rd2 vs. Penrith, Fri;) Parramatta (Rd2 vs. Brisbane, Sun;) Sydney (Rd3 vs. Bulldogs, Fri; Rd4 vs. Penrith, Fri; Rd5 vs. Brisbane, Fri;) Bulldogs (Rd3 vs. Sydney, Fri;) St.George-Illawarra (Rd4 vs. Newcastle, Fri;) Melbourne (Rd5 vs. Penrith, Sun;)

So that translates to the following teams missing out on early season exposure. North Queensland Cowboys South Sydney Rabbitohs Wests Tigers Cronulla Sutherland Sharks Manly Warringah Sea Eagles While no Cowboys is no surprise (we haven?t seen them on Channel Nine since 1995 when they played their first match), the Tigers and Sharks in particular look to have much improved rosters for 2004 and their fans are unlucky to miss out on coverage. While the Sea Eagles and Bunnies need to show some major form early to remotely hope to get on Channel Nine in 2004.

Here is the complete schedule for the opening rounds of the 2004 Telstra Premiership.

Round 1 12, 13, 14 March Panthers v Knights Penrith Stadium Fri 7.30pm Ch 9 Tigers v Sharks Telstra Stadium Sat 5.30pm Fox (Double Header) Bulldogs v Eels Telstra Stadium Sat 7.30pm Fox (Double Header) Cowboys v Sea Eagles Dairy Farmers Stadium Sat 8.30pm Fox (9.30pm Sydney) Broncos v Warriors Suncorp Stadium Sun 3.00pm Ch 9 (4.00pm Sydney) Dragons v Raiders OKI Jubilee Stadium Sun 2.30pm Fox Roosters v Rabbitohs Aussie Stadium Sun 6.00pm Fox Storm BYE

Round 2 19, 20, 21 March (NZ Daylight Saving ends at 2am Sun 21st) Raiders v Panthers Canberra Stadium Fri 7.30pm Ch 9 Warriors v Dragons Ericsson Stadium Sat 7.30pm Fox (5.30pm Sydney) Bulldogs v Sharks Sydney Showground Sat 7.30pm Sea Eagles v Roosters Brookvale Oval Sat 7.30pm Broncos v Eels Suncorp Stadium Sun 3.00pm Ch 9 (4.00pm Sydney) Storm v Knights Olympic Park Sun 2.30pm Fox Rabbitohs v Tigers Aussie Stadium Sun 3.00pm Fox Cowboys BYE

Round 3 26, 27, 28 March (Aust Daylight Saving ends at 3am Sun 28th) Roosters v Bulldogs Aussie Stadium Fri 7.30pm Ch 9 Sharks v Sea Eagles Toyota Park Sat 5.30pm Fox Eels v Knights Parramatta Stadium Sat 7.30pm Cowboys v Raiders Dairy Farmers Stadium Sat 8.30pm Fox (9.30pm Sydney) Warriors v Panthers Ericsson Stadium Sun 4.00pm Ch 9 (2.00pm Sydney) Tigers v Broncos Campbelltown Stadium Sun 2.30pm Fox Storm v Dragons Olympic Park Sun 3.00pm Fox Rabbitohs BYE

Round 4 2, 3, 4 April Panthers v Roosters Penrith Stadium Fri 7.30pm Ch 9 Raiders v Eels Canberra Stadium Sat 5.30pm Fox Rabbitohs v Sharks Aussie Stadium Sat 7.30pm Fox Cowboys v Tigers Dairy Farmers Stadium Sat 7.30pm Fox Dragons v Knights WIN Stadium Sun 3.00pm Ch 9 Broncos v Storm Suncorp Stadium Sun 2.30pm Sea Eagles v Warriors Brookvale Oval Sun 3.00pm Bulldogs BYE

Round 5 9, 10, 11, 12 April (EASTER) Roosters v Broncos Aussie Stadium Fri 7.30pm Ch 9 (Good Friday) Warriors v Knights Ericsson Stadium Sat 7.30pm Fox (5.30pm Sydney) Sharks v Cowboys Toyota Park Sat 7.30pm Fox Panthers v Storm Penrith Stadium Sun 3.00pm Ch 9 Tigers v Dragons Telstra Stadium Sun 2.30pm Fox (Double Header) Bulldogs v Sea Eagles Telstra Stadium Sun 4.30pm Fox (Double Header) Eels v Rabbitohs Parramatta Stadium Mon 3.00pm Fox (Easter Monday) Raiders BYE