While the AFL scratches its head over why Victorian teams are struggling to make the grand final, let alone win it, Sydney-based NRL teams are experiencing a resurgence that has the game’s administrators very happy indeed.

Last year, there was plenty of angst surrounding the NRL’s first “out of town” grand final between the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm. Concern was expressed then that the game in Sydney would suffer as a result. But it is a growing pain, or a small bout of parochialism, that attends any sporting competition whose catchment area has been expanded beyond its original boundaries. The AFL knows all about it.

But this year, Sydney-based teams hold four of the top eight premiership spots after 11 rounds. The Manly Sea Eagles are deserved premiership leaders as a result of their stellar one-point victory over the Melbourne Storm, who are now in second place on the premiership table.

The Sea Eagles are playing the kind of football that should see them hold outright favouritism for the premiership, and if not then share it with the Storm. Saturday night’s top of the table clash was as good a game as I have seen in a long time — and a Sea Eagles v Storm grand final would be a bottler.

But the real improver on the NRL premiership ladder is the Wests Tigers. Now in third place on the table, the Tigers have been impressive, stringing together six straight wins. Last year the Wests Tigers did not even make the top eight after winning the premiership in 2005.

Two other Sydney teams — the Cronulla Sharks and the Parramatta Eels — are also in the top eight, and while they can mix their form they are entitled to at least consideration in any premiership speculation.

Sadly, Sydney teams now dominate at the bottom end of the premiership as well — with the Sydney Roosters in last place, and the St George-Illawarra Dragons, the Bulldogs and Penrith Panthers just ahead of them.

But the success of the Sea Eagles and the Tigers is good news for the NRL. It will help ensure the NRL on Nine continues to rate very highly.

As Glenn Dyer pointed out yesterday, the State of Origin lifted Nine to a much-needed ratings win last week. With the Sea Eagles and Tigers doing well in the premiership, the NRL premiership should be a welcome boost to Nine in the coming weeks — not to mention the two remaining State of Origin matches, the next of which is now just two weeks away.

It has not been all “beer and skittles” for Nine though. Last Saturday night’s top of the table match between the Sea Eagles and Storm was only shown on pay-TV, denying Nine a ratings winner.

But that is Nine’s fault — it has the first two picks each weekend, ahead of pay-TV. The picks have to be made about six weeks in advance, so someone at Nine seriously misread where either the Sea Eagles, or Storm, (or both) would be come round 11.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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