Rugby league officials – and fans – are taking more than a passing interest in the dispute over pay television coverage of the AFL. And in the case of the fans, it’s a look of envy.

The new AFL free-to-air television deal with Seven and Ten guarantees four live matches each weekend. The new NRL deal with Nine guarantees just ONE live match, and two on delay.

If the Seven/Ten consortium cannot reach an agreement with Foxtel then it is likely there will be even more AFL games on free-to-air television.

Increasingly, the rugby league world is questioning just how good the new television rights deal really is. And the more the deal is compared with the AFL agreement, the more questions are being asked.

The fact that up to four AFL matches will be shown live in New South Wales and Queensland is a risky proposition for the AFL – and Seven and Ten. On the basis of the year’s ratings, the games are going to struggle except when the Swans and the Lions are playing.

But the massive coverage of the AFL on free-to-air television is going to chip away at rugby league’s fan base sooner or later. And it might do so sooner than later in view of growing evidence long-tolerant league fans are turning off replays of premiership matches.

Next year there will be an extra game in each round of the NRL premiership when the Gold Coast Titans join the competition, with five games shown on Foxtel (at least four of them live).

Foxtel’s coverage of rugby league is first class. And when Nine won’t show games live (such as tomorrow’s tri-nations match between the Kiwis and Great Britain) Foxtel will. But the challenge for the NRL is that the great majority of fans don’t have pay television.

Protecting its base and future from the onslaught from a cashed-up AFL won’t be helped by massively inferior free-to-air coverage when compared with that of the AFL.

One of Kerry Packer’s final acts was to up the ante in the AFL television rights battle. By doing so he created a windfall for the AFL and a headache for Seven and Ten. But the NRL, and James Packer and his new partners in PBL, will be hoping it is not contagious!