Channel 9’s staggering NRL oversight



If this young, exciting Penrith Panthers team that went so close to chasing down the Melbourne Storm in Sunday night's NRL Grand Final are here to stay, Channel 9 has a decision to make.

It's not uncommon to see fans rip commentators in any footy code in Australia, but the vitriol directed at Phil Gould during the Storm's 26-20 win was at another level and almost overshadowed a ripping finale to the season.

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There are a couple of qualifications that need to be made. There's always going to be noise on social media when you have a lot of people from Victoria tuning into a game once a season that aren't used to the NSW-centric make-up of the Nine commentary box.

Gould and his cohorts Ray Warren, Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler fall into the habit of speaking with a Sydney slant because that's the vast majority of their audience most of the time. It makes sense to keep a blue tint to proceedings more often than not.

It's also worth mentioning people like Gould are great for the game. He's almost like the Eddie McGuire of the NRL - a hugely recognisable figure who sometimes wears his heart on his sleeve to the chagrin of rival supporters and lives with a giant target on his back.

We're lucky to have both of them - and the incredibly thick skin they have.

But the performance by Gould - and the whole Nine broadcast team - can't be excused this time because of a staggering oversight.

Phil Gould wasn't wearing a Penrith Panthers jacket on Sunday night but he may as well have been. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)
Phil Gould wasn't wearing a Penrith Panthers jacket on Sunday night but he may as well have been. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

There was nothing wrong with Gould giving his view on the penalty try that opened the game if that was how he saw it - even if continuing to complain about it more than an hour later was kind of lame.

It was also fine to point out how the scoreboard perhaps wasn't reflecting the action in the first half, if that's how he saw it. And you could argue he was proved correct by the way the Panthers fought back into the game in the second half.

But what wasn't excusable, and to a lesser degree this also includes Johns and Fittler, was the failure to celebrate anything the Storm did in a manner befitting of a grand final.

It's OK to highlight, and perhaps even lament, where luck or Penrith's defence broke down each time Melbourne scored.

But it needed to be balanced out with analysis of what the Storm had done well - and this was rarely heard in the two-hour broadcast.

The only time Gould really spoke positively about Melbourne was when Clive Churchill Medalist Ryan Papenhuyzen was involved - and you don't have to be overly cynical to wonder if this was because he's a NSW player.

Suliasi Vunivalu incredible intercept and length of the field try was followed by frustration from the commentary box about how the Panthers had shot themselves in the foot. There wasn't any celebration of the daring and top-level athleticism the winger showed once play-by-play caller Warren handed over the mic.

Instead, with the Storm up 16-0, we got Gould's most memorable line of the night: "I honestly feel like the Panthers are on top."

It was the same story after Cameron Smith's score 10 minutes later. It was another moment of quick-thinking perfectly executed by the Storm skipper but all viewers heard was more discussion about how unlucky Penrith had been.

Papenhuyzen said after the game his team's defence while building a 22-0 halftime lead was the best it had been all season but it was barely spoken about in the broadcast.

Watching at home Josh Dugan wondered: "Is Gus watching it or is his heart talking? Melbourne are well and truly on top. Their defence is on song."

Johns did occasionally credit the Storm, including for their ability to turn players like Papenhuyzen and Jahrome Hughes into stars after the departures of Cooper Cronk and Billy Storm, but it didn't go far enough.

There were also far too much overlooking going on when the over-exuberant Panthers, to put it simply, stuffed up.

The Panthers only had themselves to blame. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
The Panthers only had themselves to blame. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Gould spoke as if the result came down to bad luck and bad refereeing when the reality was Penrith made way too many mistakes.

They were on the wrong side of an 18-12 error count, only completed 33/48 sets and continually knocked the ball on and gifted it back to the opposition.

Gould hasn't commentated Penrith games because of the conflict of interest with his role in building the current Panthers team while serving as the club's general manager until last year.

Sitting one of your best and highest-paid talents on the sidelines for the biggest game of the season isn't a palatable situation for a big network, but unless Gould can provide better balance he might have to watch the Panthers' win the competition one day from the grandstand.

Because even with the time to reflect after the final siren he still tweeted: "Congratulations to Storm. 2020 Premiers. However, GF could easily have gone to Panther. Half-time score did not reflect 1st half action. Panther 20-4 second half, showed possibilities. Panther ran out of time. Cameron Smith said 'If it goes another 2 mins, I just don't know'."

Melbourne deserved better.

Originally published as Channel 9's staggering NRL oversight

The Storm deserved better. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
The Storm deserved better. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)