Who'll watch the Raiders in 2013? Photo: Colleen Petch
The fractious relationship between Canberra and Channel Nine is near breaking point, with just one Raiders game to be shown free-to-air in the first 20 rounds next year.
In a slap to the face, which has outraged Raiders players, fans and sponsors, their round 16 away clash against Souths on Friday, June 28, is the only fixture scheduled for Nine. The Raiders will be the least-represented club on free-to-air next season, with the Warriors next with two matches.
Predictably, high-rating teams the Bulldogs (14), Broncos (12) and Tigers (11) will enjoy the most Nine coverage.
While Canberra feared the worst, they were hopeful their stirring finish to last season - winning the last six games to storm into the finals - would attract greater free-to-air coverage. The Tigers, Dragons (eight), Gold Coast (seven), Roosters (seven) and Parramatta (six) all received more love from the NRL's chief broadcasters, despite failing to make the finals in 2012.
Canberra boss Don Furner understands the commercial realities behind the decision, but will continue to rally Channel Nine and the NRL for a fairer go.
''It's something we jump up and down about every year and we'll continue to do it,'' Furner said on Friday.
''Whether it changes much, we still have to voice our disappointment, especially for our players and sponsors.
''I understand the commercial realities of Channel Nine getting the choice, we could be on top of the ladder but the reality is Penrith or Parramatta rate better in western Sydney than we do. It's purely about the ratings in the big city, but I'm disappointed for the players and sponsors when they don't get the coverage they should.''
Furner revealed he received letters from sponsors expressing their disappointment at the lack of free-to-air coverage when the draw was leaked to media outlets last month.
Huawei's two-year sponsorship with the Raiders finishes at the end of next season, and stronger Nine coverage would improve Canberra's chances of extending that deal. The telecommunications company declined to comment when contacted by The Canberra Times.
''We've got great sponsors on board and they want great coverage, that's what we'll be fighting for,'' Furner said.
''I got some feedback from a couple of new sponsors in Defence Housing Australia and Abode [Hotels, after the draft draw was leaked], and part of the interest from them is the [TV] coverage.
''They wrote some letters, which I passed onto the NRL, about their disappointment and they want to get their brands out there.''
Other key points of the Raiders draw include:
■ A round one away clash against Penrith on Sunday, March 10;
■ The opening home game will be against St George Illawarra in round three on Sunday, March 24. The fixture will be one of three straight games the Raiders will play in the NRL's new Sunday 6.30pm timeslot;
■ Just four of the Raiders' first 11 games are at Canberra Stadium, with a string of home matches during the back end of the season;
■ Canberra and Manly have been allocated a bye after their scheduled round 11 game at Brookvale, opening the door for the match to be shifted to China. Furner and Manly boss David Perry will meet relevant parties in China within a fortnight to gauge the financial viability of such a move. On Friday, Furner rated the prospect of a China match as ''better than 50-50'';
■ The ANZAC Test has been scheduled for Friday, April 19, at Canberra Stadium. The preceding week Canberra hosts the Warriors, which it will use as an opportunity to promote the Test;
■ Canberra hosts Sonny Bill Williams's Roosters on April 7;
■ Canberra hosts the Warriors on Saturday, April 13, at 7.30pm, immediately after the GWS Giants AFL clash with St Kilda at 4.40pm at Manuka Oval the same day, and;
■ It is very unlikely any Raiders home games will be shifted to Perth.
While frustrated at the continued snubbing by Nine, the Raiders had eight of their 10 draw requests granted. They host heavy drawcards St George Illawarra, Roosters, Brisbane, Manly, Parramatta and the Bulldogs.
''We've got some big drawing home matches there, and a lot of home games late in the season when it's important to win,'' Furner said. ''I think we've got the best draw in a while in terms of the drawing potential of some of our games. We're thankful for that, but the disappointing thing is the Channel Nine coverage.''