For years the Daily Telegraph has been rugby league’s flagship publication – even in the off-season. But this year the change has been dramatic, and the AFL is the beneficiary.

Yesterday’s Telegraph gave about equal coverage to the AFL Grand Final (dominated by stories on the Swans) and the NRL Grand Final. I have been reading the Tele (mainly for its rugby league coverage) for longer than I care to remember, and the coverage given to the Swans this week is unheard of. Andy Demetriou & Co at AFL HQ will be rubbing their hands with glee.

The NRL says publicly it’s wonderful that the Grand Final is between two non-Sydney (and non-NSW) teams. But where the ratings count the most – Sydney – a Sunday night decider between two non-Sydney teams needs all the hype it can get. This week, however, hasn’t quite gone to plan.

Tuesday in Grand Final week is a key day in the promotional build-up to the big event. The NRL announces the referee, and the Grand Final teams usually have their major public training session. The teams are finalised, and key players are interviewed.

So what did the Tele lead with in its rugby league coverage yesterday? The news that the Cronulla Sharks would be naming Ricky Stuart as coach for 2007! Apart from the fact the appointment has been universally known for at least a week, the NRL will hardly be pleased that the club chose Grand Final week to name its new coach.

But the NRL did manage a headline last night – albeit an unwanted one. The grand final trophy was “lost” by Qantas when it was being sent from Sydney to Melbourne for a photo shoot with the Storm team. It ended up instead in Perth.

The Grand Final is getting saturation coverage in Brisbane, of course, and increased coverage in Melbourne. But even that’s not going to result in the NRL significantly challenging the AFL dominance in Melbourne.

The real question is how much impetus the massive run the AFL is getting in Sydney this week will give to the AFL’s push into New South Wales? Plenty, I suspect – and fear!

Peter Fray

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