What a difference an off season, and a change of television rights, makes when it comes to Channel Nine’s attitude to rugby league in Melbourne!

For years Nine has refused to give rugby league, including games involving the Melbourne Storm, a fair go on Melbourne television. That was when Nine held the rights for the AFL premiership – which it has now lost to Seven and Ten.

The Friday night rugby league replay was shown in Melbourne around midnight.

Tomorrow night the 2007 NRL season gets under way with two games, the Broncos versus Cowboys Queensland derby in Brisbane and the Melbourne Storm versus Wests Tigers game at Olympic Park in Melbourne.

For the first time since the establishment of the NRL, New South Wales and Queensland free to air viewers will get one Friday night game live.

Tomorrow night the Broncos home game will be shown live in Queensland, while the Storm home game will be shown live in Sydney. And LIVE in Melbourne.

Yes, Channel Nine Melbourne is showing the Storm versus Tigers game live at 7.30pm! The Broncos game will be replayed at the usual time – 12.20am Saturday.

Having resisted for years the requests by the NRL, Melbourne Storm, and rugby league fans to show game in Melbourne at a more reasonable hour, it has given in completely – at least for one night.

Nine’s decision to show one NRL match live on free to air each weekend – the AFL has two or three games live each weekend – is the most significant change in the new contract between the NRL and Channel Nine.

And it might be a very timely one for Eddie McGuire and his network. Friday night rugby league – even when it was on delay – topped the ratings. It is reasonable to expect a live broadcast, starting at 7.30pm, will rate even higher.

The Brisbane match is likely to attract a crowd of 50,000 – so the argument that prevented live broadcasts for the last decade ( that the effect on crowd numbers would be too great) will be shot down on the first night of live coverage.

The other winner from the return of rugby league will be Fox Sports. From this weekend, Fox Sports Three will show live rugby league on Saturday night (two live games) and Sunday afternoon, and, for the first time, Monday night.

Last year rugby league matches occupied 70 of the 100 most watched programs on pay television – it will do no worse in 2007.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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