The symbolism couldn’t have been more appropriate. Under the strapline ‘Exclusive Photo” there’s a full-length picture of national rugby league boss David Gallop leaving the Seven Network’s Sydney City headquarters on the back page of The Daily Telegraph, the paper owned by News Ltd, half owners of the NRL.

“Proof Seven wants Packer’s league rights” screamed the very pointed headline. And on the front page there’s a pointer saying: “The photo that will terrify Channel 9”.

The Tele and its new editor,David Penberthy were having a bit of fun at the expense of the Packers and their Nine Network, but the message was clear and very pointed: Pay up and pay a lot more, otherwise Seven could sneak some or all of the free-to-air rights.

Gallop arrived at 12:52pm, nice and precise, and guess what? There was a Tele photographer waiting outside when he left 90 minutes later. Amazing timing.

So who tipped off The Tele? News Ltd or Seven? Hmmm, a difficult choice as both love to have a bit of sport at the expense of the Packers.

Seven’s David Leckie was there along with Seven commercial director Bruce McWilliam, both of whom stitched up the joint AFL bid with Ten.

The Tele quoted Nine’s David Gyngell as saying he didn’t think Seven was being “genuine”. He said Seven was just looking but realised it wouldn’t get the rights. Well, that’s right, because Nine has first and last rights over the NRL, just as Seven has first and last rights over the AFL.

Nine and the Packers are the natural owners of rugby league, given the time and effort they’ve put into the relationship. But the Packers know they will have to pay more to keep the rights – up to $40 million a year has been floated, which is more than double the current fee.

If it came to the crunch, Seven would be happy for a couple of games a week for Sydney and Brisbane, just like Nine at the moment, with Foxtel having the rest (rather Fox Sports, PBL and News co-owners).

And Jeff Wall, Crikey’s rugby league writer, adds:

The “interest” being shown by Seven might at the very least secure a much better “deal” for rugby league. It could hardly be any worse than the current arrangement Nine was able to negotiate after the Super League “war” debacle!

The full story is on the site here.

Peter Fray

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