Off the Wall

Sunday afternoon football for the season ended on a high yesterday - with the Eels upsetting the minor premiers, the Dragons.

For the next two weekends of the finals, matches will be played on Friday night and Saturday night only - and the Grand Final in three weeks time is effectively a twilight-early evening event.

The question which needs to be asked today, as it has been asked at this time of the season in recent years, is why do we abandon Sunday afternoon finals after the first round?

The answer is that Channel Nine wants it that way - no, demands it be that way.

So Channel Nine goes right throughout the premiership season without showing one match on a Saturday night, yet demands the right to Saturday night finals?

If anyone doubts who runs the show when it comes to television scheduling then surely that is dispelled again by the reality that the most family friendly time for the greatest game of all - Sunday afternoon - is off the agenda until March 2010.

Even the twilight-early evening Grand Final is timed under protest from Nine. It remains under constant threat of reverting to what Nine really wants - a 7pm-8pm start.

Because of the belligerent opposition to Sunday afternoon finals, the Storm will miss out on a promoters dream - a final on Sunday week...the day after the AFL grand final. And a day when Nine could show the game live into Melbourne without AFL opposition. As it now stands, the match will be played on Saturday night - just hours after the AFL grand final. Good luck - the Storm are going to need it!

In rejecting Sunday afternoon finals, the NRL and Nine are taking a short-sighted view. By doing so they are neglecting the games future - boys and girls who love their football. A 4PM start yesterday was about as family friendly as one can get.

Night time finals rate well - but are they encouraging the young to follow the game? I doubt it.

If Nine thinks that Saturday night is night for finals, why isn't it right for the premiership season?

But putting the disappointment about timing aside, what a great first weekend of finals football we have had?

For the second year running, the minor premiers get rolled by team eight, and last year's premiers get bowled out in round one!

But the best feature is that there are now surely four, and perhaps five, serious grand final contenders.

The Melbourne Storm and the Broncos are now clearly serious contenders. The return of Brett Kimmorley puts the Bulldogs back in contention, if they weren't there already. And the Dragons most certainly cannot be written off despite yesterday's loss.

And how about the Eels? Not only do they have the games stand out player, their new coach, Daniel Anderson, has been a real success story.

The Titans fought back courageously against the Broncos - just when everyone thought the game was going to be a total whitewash.

And if you doubt it is an open contest have a look at the Sportsbet prices on the grand final winner. Storm are favourite at $3.25, followed by the Eels on $3.50. Bulldogs on $4, Broncos on $6.50, and, wait for it, the minor premiers on $7.50!

Roll on next weekend - but what a shame it does not extend until Sunday?