Forget the PR hype from the National Rugby League (and Channel Nine) about how “wonderful” it is that rugby league this Sunday night will have it first ever non-NSW grand final.
A grand final week without a Sydney or NSW team, at the same time as an AFL grand final week with a Sydney team, presents real challenges for the NRL, and significant opportunities for the AFL.
The Sunday night grand final will be a sellout, because it is an event, and more than 60,000 tickets were sold long before it was known that it would be a Melbourne Storm v Brisbane Broncos contest.
But just how much media coverage, and public interest, the game will attract in Sydney this week will be the real test.
Last week the Daily Telegraph ran a massive campaign to rally support behind the St George Dragons and the Canterbury Bulldogs in order to prevent an “out of town” grand final.
This week the biggest-selling newspaper in NSW will have divided loyalties – does it throw its weight behind a contest between two teams majority owned by News Limited, or does it try and drum up parochial support for the Sydney Swans in the AFL grand final?
But whatever the Tele does, nothing could possibly match the sheer hide of Channel Nine yesterday. Having treated Melbourne Storm fans, and Melbourne rugby league fans generally, with contempt for close to 30 weekends this year, yesterday it put out a press statement saying how the live coverage of the Storm v Dragons game won its ratings period in Melbourne on Saturday night!
And Victorian and Queensland fans hardly have cause to thank Nine for insisting on a Sunday night grand final, part of the justification for which is that the Monday after the grand final is a public holiday in NSW – what a pity it is not a holiday in Victoria and Queensland as well!
The AFL will be working overtime to promote the Swans in Sydney this week. The NRL will have its work cut out drumming up the level of grand final week support in Sydney, and NSW generally, that a game under increasing competition from other codes clearly needs.