Off the Wall

It takes a visit to Perth and Melbourne to give one a reality check on just how enormous the challenge rugby league faces when it comes to expansion in the non-league states.

Three days in Perth was an eye opener from several angles. Firstly, there is no GFC in WA today. The economy is starting to boom again and optimism abounds.

But when it comes to coverage of rugby league, I fear that we are now in a weaker position in WA, and Perth in particular, than we have ever been. It is now a decade since the Western Reds - who performed better than most of the out of the mainstream teams - was unfairly consigned to history. It might as well have been a century ago.

Rugby league struggles for any coverage in the WA print media - and gets virtually none on radio and television. The only exception is during State of Origin where the level of interest remains considerable I am told.

I had hope there would have been much stronger interest in WA given that both the WA AFL teams are well out of the race for the premiership this year, and debate about the standard of the main AFL venue - Subiaco Oval - is hotter than ever. In addition, the Western Force seems to be on the nose everywhere - and it will be interesting to see how many attend the Wallabies v Springboks test tomorrow night. Coverage early in the week was poor.

The WA resource sector, and business sector generally, ought to be ready made for a privately owned NRL team - but the longer we deny it that opportunity the tougher the challenge will be, if it is ever offered.

The position is not much better in Melbourne sadly. Looking at the television news coverage last night the only league story was about this weekend being the last time the Storm will play at their current home ground. A state of the art stadium to replace it is under construction.

But the A-League soccer competition, notwithstanding appalling attendances at many games so far this year, gets significantly more coverage in the Melbourne media than the Storm and the NRL do. That is a worry...given that the Storm's financial survival depends on the continued generosity - and it cannot be described otherwise - of News Limited.

I know those in authority - notably in the ARL - claim that playing origin and test matches in Melbourne boosts rugby league. The evidence to sustain that claim is scant at best.

Unfortunately, the AFL premiership looks like being a contest between Victorian teams. The interstate presence is not as strong as it was when the flag was being shared by Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane teams.

As a result, the saturation coverage the Melbourne media gives the AFL is today more at absolutely flood levels!

Rugby league must maintain its presence in Melbourne, and it must look seriously at Perth and WA...where the growing workforce needed for gas and mining resource development will largely be drawn from the eastern states.

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