Off the Wall

The Australia v England test match in Melbourne on Sunday night carries more importance than just the need for England to begin turning around its recent very ordinary record against the Kangaroos.

On the basis of what we saw in Wellington on Saturday night, they need to lift more than a mere cog or two to achieve that.

But the ARL, NRL, and the yet to be established independent commission, will surely be hoping that the game draws a reasonable attendance.

Throughout the 2010 season Channel Nine did the game in Melbourne few favours. Premiership matches were replayed at midnight, or later, and the Storm were given little free to air coverage in any event.

The result of that, together with the fact the Storm were handed the wooden spoon early in the season, resulted in Melbourne viewing numbers for one of the few games show live - the grand final - drawing an audience about half what it has been in recent years.

The game will be shown live in Melbourne this Sunday - and will be followed by the one day cricket international live from Perth.

But anything less a 20,000 crowd will be as big an embarrassment as the "official attendance" of 11,000 at the Kangaroos v Kumuls game last Sunday at Parramatta Stadium.

The game in Melbourne needs everything to run in its favour, and then a bit.

It is jammed in between Derby Day on Saturday (which will draw 120,000) and Cup Day on Tuesday (around 110,000). Then on Wednesday 30,000 or more will be at the MCG for the Australia v Sri Lanka one dayer, and then on Thursday another 110,000 will roll up to Oaks Day.

Now we know that the good people of Melbourne would probably pay to attend a letter opening, but the number of events over the next week is really stretching things.

And there has to be a worry rugby league will be a loser.

But the challenges get even worse.

The weather forecast for Saturday is a month's rain in a day on Saturday...and more rain on Sunday. And more rain for Cup Day!

Yesterday the Kangaroos gained some good publicity in Melbourne by being a part of the barrier draw for the VRC Derby.

But it is hard to see that coverage making up for a season of neglect, half a dozen events in a week, and rain!

We also desperately need a contest on Sunday night - a crowd, and a contest!

And here is another reason why the game at the country-to-country level needs it.

A State of Origin match at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane is always sold out within hours of tickets going on sale.

The four nations final is at Suncorp, and tickets have been on sale for weeks - only around 20,000 have been sold.

The four nations series is struggling not just for headlines, but also for credibility and relevance.

Sunday night will either give it the boost it needs - or sink even further.

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