The management at Channel Nine might have changed, but the attitude to one of its most loyal, and most lucrative, viewing sectors – rugby league – most certainly has not.

Just two days after the NRL CEO David Gallop released figures confirming rugby league remained the most watched programs this year on Nine in Sydney and Brisbane (three of the top five most watched in Sydney and the top six most watched in Brisbane), he also highlighted the success of live Friday night football – winning an average of 34.7% of the market in both capitals.

Nine, which apart from rugby league, has been wallowing in the ratings all year, has a curious way of rewarding fans for their loyalty and affirming its “commitment” to the game nationwide.

The four finals series matches this weekend are supposed to be shown “live” in NSW and Queensland. There is no live coverage on Fox Sports for any of the matches over the four weekends of finals football.

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The opening match tonight between the Warriors and the Eels in Auckland, on paper, looks like being the closest of the four. Only tomorrow night’s Cowboys v Bulldogs game in Townsville comes close. The Eels have a substantial fan base, and given the number of Kiwis in Australia, the Warriors are hardly friendless here.

It is being played at 8.30pm New Zealand time, 6.30pm our time. The later start was to accommodate live coverage here. But Channel Nine, once again, has “shafted” its very loyal Friday night fans.

It will show the game, on delay, starting at 7.00pm. And it will be a miracle if the coverage starts on time. It seldom does.

If Australia had real anti-siphoning laws then Nine would not snub fans this way. Fox Sports would be able to show the game live. But Nine knows the “laws” are a joke – so it can do what it likes. So much for “thanking” rugby league fans for giving Nine at least something to cheer about in an otherwise grim 2007 ratings environment!

But it gets worse. Fox Sports offered Nine a deal to show the finals live in Victoria, SA and WA. Nine, rather than just think about fans in the non-league states, sought to link any agreement to Fox Sports allowing Nine to replay its coverage of Broncos game in Brisbane when they are the pay television match of the day on a Sunday.

Fox Sports refused, but it also needs to answer how it could offer to “split” its Fox Sports coverage when at the start of the year it apparently said it could not do so technically.

The NRL seems powerless to do anything about what is a stand off between free to air and pay television. Perhaps “Kevin07” might add a couple of points to his poll lead by promising to give us real, and not phoney, anti-siphoning laws?

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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