Off the Wall

Yet another golden opportunity to promote rugby league in Melbourne, and Victoria, has gone begging - and again Channel Nine has a lot to answer for.

Tomorrow afternoon The Storm will play the Dragons at Etihad Stadium. This is the game of the round - and probably one of the games of the premiership year.

You would have thought that seeing as it is being played on Good Friday, with no AFL opposition, Nine would have shown it live, or at least at a civilised hour, in Melbourne.

But no, Sydney and Brisbane will see the game at 4PM Friday - probably half an hour or so after it concludes.

And when will it be shown in Melbourne? At 11PM on Friday night!

At 4PM Nine will be showing "The Shak"...whatever that is.

Two reasons have been advanced by Nine, and others, for a golden opportunity gone begging.

Firstly, Nine apparently does not want to "detract" from the traditional Channel Seven charity telethon on tomorrow.

Then we read that if the game was shown "live" in Melbourne it would have impacted on the Etihad Stadium attendance!

What Nine did not say, but should say, is that it has no commitment to promoting rugby league in Melbourne, and what is more it is not obliged to have one.

That is a serious flaw in the current television agreement.

But it makes may fans in Queensland and New South Wales ask this reasonable question - why is The Storm, being propped up to the tune of $8 million a year, or more, by News Limited?

The future of the Storm has been one of the contentious issues in the negotiations over the establishment of an independent commission to run the game.

News is insisting that the Storm must be guaranteed a place in the premiership as part of any deal for News to exit ownership of the NRL.

No other team will be offered let alone given that guarantee.

There are half a dozen clubs who would give a gold bike and chain for such a guarantee.

If the Storm is to be given that guarantee, then the television rights holder must be required to show the game in Melbourne at a civilised hour.

And if it doesn't, then let's hope the Communications Minister tightens the "use it or lose it" provision and let cable television, or another free to air channel, do so!