Off the Wall

I am undecided whether I will be cheering for the Manly Sea Eagles or Tony Archer on Sunday - extending it to the video referee and the sideline officials would be just too much to contemplate.

But supporting the Melbourne Storm is now right out of the question.

The behaviour of the coach, CEO, and the suspended club captain this week has simply been totally over the top. It defies comprehension and has reached the stage where it is harming a great game.

The NRL, and its sixteen clubs, need a great grand final on Sunday. It needs a capacity crowd, record ratings and a game that will be remembered as among the best grand finals.

These are very tough times for rugby league. They are going to get much tougher. The prevailing economic circumstances are already starting to impact on discretionary spending in the community.

The licensed clubs, which have been doing it tough, and going to find the going ever tougher in the months ahead. The majority of NRL team remain substantially dependent on their licensed clubs to survive.

Sponsorship by the business community is tough already, and it will get tougher in the months ahead.

The Melbourne Storm, almost alone among the NRL clubs, is largely immune from all of that. It does not have to worry about TV ratings because Channel Nine in Melbourne usually shows Storm matches at midnight - outside the ratings period. It does not have to worry about Senator Nick Xenophon waging war against poker machines either.

And, above all else, it does not even have to make a profit - or even keep losses to a minimum. The Storm is wholly owned by News Limited. It is generally agreed that News tips between $6 million and $8 million into the Storm each year. No other NRL club has such an uncomplaining, generous benefactor.

Within the next year or so, the NRL will begin negotiations on the next free to air and pay television rights agreements. It desperately needs a great grand final, in every way, as it develops its case throughout 2009. If economic conditions are tough when negotiations take place, getting even the current deal renewed will be difficult.

And when you look at the cost cutting activities of the new regime at Channel Nine the NRL is going to need everything running its way, and more.

For the last two weeks, the Melbourne Storm has done everything possible to deny the grand final the good headlines it needs, and frankly deserves.

Yet today, on the eve of the grand final, there is not one iota of regret, no apology......just more of the same endless nonsense about the Storm being targeted, Cameron Smith being a scapegoat and so on.

The other fifteen NRL clubs - including the Brisbane Broncos which is only part owned by News Limited - know their futures depend on a good television deal, and that means high ratings on Sunday and throughout 2009, on the Xenophon anti-pokies agenda being curtailed, and on the expansion of the AFL into Western Sydney and South East Queensland being