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Saturday Serve

Raiders are still the one

The NRL's most powerful man was revealed on Friday, his name is David … Gyngell. Any doubts the Channel Nine boss is the game's most influential figure were dispelled when the free-to-air network delivered an emphatic ''stuff you'' to the Raiders.

Canberra has been allocated just one game on Channel Nine for the first 20 rounds - and don't hold your breath about it getting any love in the final six rounds, even if it's leading the competition.

Geography and fan base constraints means the Raiders can never expect to enjoy the same free-to-air coverage as the big drawcards, led by the Broncos, Tigers and Bulldogs.

But there's a difference between the Raiders being overlooked because of ''commercial realities'' and Channel Nine treating them like something they've just dug out of their ear.

Granted, Channel Nine paid $1 billion-plus a year for the NRL rights, which has resulted in greater funding packages for each club, and a higher salary cap.

Channel Nine would not have paid as much if they were not warranted any say in what games they televise. But does that give them the right to play dictator in this instance?


David Smith may officially be the boss, but it's his namesake who really pulls the strings.

Normally, the Sydney media have about as much time for the Raiders as Daniel Geale does for Anthony Mundine. But at Friday's news conference in Sydney, one of the first queries raised was Canberra's poor free-to-air coverage.

Not Sonny Bill Williams' first Roosters game, or Israel Folau's return to rugby league for the Eels, but ''do you think Canberra has been dudded?''

The response from interim NRL boss Shane Mattiske was so vague it would make a politician blush.

Mattiske: ''We've worked very hard with our free-to-air and pay television broadcasters, to try and deliver the best combination of value to those broadcasters, and the matches our fans want to see.'' Translation: ''Channel Nine hates the Raiders and they don't want a bar of them. Also, the Raiders have no fans and nobody wants to watch them on TV.''

Mattiske: ''We're very proud of the fact we've been able to achieve 14 of our 16 teams in the Friday night slots for our first 20 rounds.'' Translation: ''Newcastle and Penrith rate almost as badly as the Raiders.''

Mattiske: ''We're working with the broadcast partners and Channel Nine, who bring forward the selections they'd like to see. They've certainly extracted some requirements to ensure they deliver some value back to the business.'' Translation: ''Not having to cover the Raiders was top of that list. Gyngell said if the Raiders were given any more than a delayed game against Souths on his network, he'd give me a Chinese burn and I won't be invited to the Christmas party.''

Mattiske: ''The final six rounds of the competition are yet to be scheduled, they'll be scheduled after round 16, but Canberra does feature in the first 20 rounds on free-to-air TV.''

Translation: ''Geez the Raiders are on free-to-air TV once, what are they whingeing about? We'll hold a press conference after round 16 and give the impression they were considered, when they weren't. Let's all hope they buy it!''

NRL general manager of football operations Nathan McGuirk wasn't spared from the ''was Canberra dudded?'' interrogation.

McGuirk: ''They open their [home] season with one of their biggest games of the year against the Dragons in round three, and we've placed a special match prior to the Anzac Test against the Warriors in the week leading up to that, which I know Canberra is very excited about. There's a lot of positive aspects in their draw as well.''

Translation: ''We've offered a couple of small gestures, which have absolutely no effect on our bottom line. So surely all is forgiven?''

Led by the likes of Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson and Jarrod Croker, the youthful Raiders play an exciting brand that the NRL should be promoting.

Plenty of impartial fans I know love watching the Raiders because of their expansive approach. Much more enjoyable than a dour side such as the Dragons.

Unfortunately, supporters without pay TV will remain in the dark.