Off the Wall

The clash between the NRL premiership opening round and the finals of the 50 over cricket tri series is providing the Independent Commission with its first test - and an interesting challenge for Channel Nine.

The NRL cannot afford the Friday night match between the Eels and the Broncos related to the Nine digital channel, Gem, to allow the cricket 50 over match between Australia and Sir Lanka to be shown on the main Nine network channel.

And if Nine does so - and it has certainly not said it won't do so - what does that say about Nine's ongoing commitment to rugby league, and the game's priority in its scheduling?

The NRL has already had to give way on the Sunday afternoon game on round one already - the Manly v Warriors grand final replay being played in Auckland.

It will be shown live at lunch time to allow for the cricket semi final to be shown live immediately after it.

At least the game will be shown live...but at lunch time which will not suit many viewers.

I hope the IC take a firm line with Nine on the Friday night game - and takes into account Nine's response as it prepares to open negotiations with Nine, and other networks, on the rights for the game post 2012.

Nine has too much say over the game already - especially scheduling - that is wholly unsupported by what it pays the NRL for exclusive free to air rights to the premiership.

If it insists on relegating rugby league to its second channel on the opening weekend, then it needs to be more than just condemned - it needs to be told in no uncertain terms that this factor will be taken into accounts when rights are being negotiated.

The AFL gets a lot more from its free to air rights broadcaster, Channel Seven, that rugby league does - and it has more say over scheduling than the NRL does.

That just cannot continue.

Let's see how the IC negotiates this first, if relatively minor, hurdle.

And let's see just how genuine Nine's commitment is to the game that gives its massive ratings from March to October year in year out is!

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