Off the Wall

The NRL will be happy with how grand final week has gone - but it needs a "greater than great" grand final on Sunday thanks to a couple of issues largely beyond its influence or control.

Sunday's grand final television ratings will be the measuring stick when it comes to the negotiation of the next television rights deal. The NRL needs a very good finish to what has been an excellent ratings year - up until the finals.

A media analyst reveals in the "Financial Review" today that NRL viewing numbers were up about 10 per cent during the premiership rounds, whereas those of the AFL fell by a similar percentage.

But the NRL finals series have seen ratings flatten out largely because neither Brisbane nor Melbourne were in them. And the absence of Brisbane and Melbourne from the grand final will make it difficult for the 2009 grand final ratings to be equalled let alone exceeded.

It is not hard to tell that the AFL regards the NRL as the real threat when it comes to their next television deal which may well be finalised in the next couple of months.

There can be no other  reason why the AFL allowed the game's best player, Gary Ablett to announce his switch to the new  Gold Coast team in its grand final replay week.

It did the trick - while NRL grand final week coverage in Brisbane has not been that bad, it was totally swamped mid-week when Ablett announced his is joining the Gold Coast Suns in 2011. It received huge coverage on the Gold Coast, and in Brisbane.

Last week's AFL grand final rated appallingly in Brisbane. The AFL will be hoping the replay will do better, partly given the positive coverage Ablett gave the game this week.

The NRL ratings depend on Brisbane, and South East Queensland, delivering good numbers. Just how many South East Queenslanders will watch Sunday's grand final is critical to a good overall number - and one that is competitive with the AFL's very healthy metropolitan figure of 2.8 million last weekend.

And Melbourne won't be delivering much - no team, and no live coverage of any match in the finals series before the grand final.

A grand final between two Sydney teams will be an enormous long term boost for the game in the biggest market place of all. But it is the overall numbers that will count when it comes to the negotiations David Gallop will probably advance within weeks of the end of the season.

I believe the scene is set for one of the better grand finals of the modern era. I just hope Brisbane and Melbourne fans have the same belief - and tune in even though there are no "local" teams involved. Perhaps the Wayne Bennett v Brian Smith coaching duel will help - but there has been no grand final atmosphere in Brisbane this week.

Given that it is being played in prime viewing time, we desperately need the half time scores to be close - and I am sure David Gallop would not mind a few minutes of "golden point" extra time as well.

The Dragons and the Roosters have won their place in the grand final after quite different seasons. And that adds to the intrigue.

The Dragons have been the pacesetters all season - last season's minor premiers and competition leaders for most of this season, minor premiers, and the team with a good defence record.

The Roosters have been the opposite - last season's wooden spooners, a team that at one stage looked unlikely to even make the finals, but the team which came good late, and has been playing exciting attacking football.

We need this grand final to be as great as we anticipate it will be - and if possible even greater!

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