It has taken just a few weeks into the 2007 NRL premiership to realise how Channel Nine intends to milk absolute maximum ratings value from its new contract that provides for one – and one only – live match coverage.

Tonight’s games are the grand final replay clash between the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm in Brisbane and the Bulldogs v West Tigers match in Sydney.

This year the Storm are undefeated, and while the Broncos are off to a slow start, they are the reigning premiers and spoilt Andrew Johns farewell when they defeated the Knights last Sunday night. The Bulldogs are in the top eight, but only just, while the Tigers are proving to be one of the seasons early disappointments.

The Broncos v Storm game will be shown live in Brisbane, and throughout Queensland – ensuring a ratings winner for Channel Nine Brisbane. The Bulldogs v Tigers game will be shown on delay – and chock full of advertising.

But Sydney and NSW viewers will get the Bulldogs v Tigers game live and the other match on replay.

When the NRL proudly announced its new television rights deal – a deal that is increasingly being shown to be massively inferior to the AFL deal with Seven and Ten – it proclaimed that the match of the weekend would be shown live on Friday night, with a second, less important, game replayed after the live coverage ends.

Nine clearly believes its decision to switch the live coverage – when the Broncos and/or Storm are playing – is going to maximise its ratings in both Sydney and Brisbane.

But that was not the intention when the much trumpeted agreement to introduce one, yes, just one, live free to air game was signed.

It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs v Tigers game rates in Sydney tonight. If it does not rate as well as well as usual, then Nine will have become a very deserved cropper!

When the Broncos and Storm made last year’s grand final, there were confident predictions that lower ratings in Sydney would be certain. And the predictions were very wrong.

Surely a grand final replay, including the team which, along with the Manly Sea Eagles, is undefeated ranks more highly than a match between a team just in the top eight and one well out of it?

But spare a thoughts for Melbourne fans of the Storm. Nine in Melbourne will show the grand final replay on delay at around 11pm – and the other game in the early hours of Saturday!