Australian broadcaster Channel 9 paid $625 million for NRL free-to-air TV rights yet can't secure an interview with Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson.

Fox Sports paid even more to televise every game live yet can't get a chat with Melbourne Storm's champion fullback Billy Slater.

Such is the fierce rivalry between Nine, Fox Sports and even Sky TV in New Zealand, the networks have spent the summer months securing the NRL's biggest stars on exclusive contracts in a ratings battle that is as aggressive as any of the on-field action.

Nine's Footy Show recently sent a crew to New Zealand to interview Johnson, a popular talent in several appearances on the network last year.


The show had to settle for skipper Ryan Hoffman because Johnson had signed a contract with Sky TV to appear exclusively on the network aligned to Fox Sports.

Fox Sports has had its own problems. A crew was recently in Melbourne to package interviews with their star players to put to air during games and other shows during the season. Billy Slater politely knocked them back because of his deal at Channel 9.

It's one of the reasons why Fox Sports signed Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith to ensure they are well covered in Melbourne, even without Slater. You won't see them on Channel 9 this year.

Fox Sports also has Greg Inglis, Daly Cherry-Evans and Corey Parker under exclusive contracts. There is talk it will also secure Sam Burgess.

All of the above are allowed to appear on Channel 9 only in game-day interviews when their clubs are playing in a free-to-air match or news bulletins.

The contracts range from on-air appearances to also cover marketing and promotional work.

"Australian TV has a long history of great rivalries," Fox Sports Gary Burns said. "This is another one.

"There has been lots of toing and froing. You want certain players identified to your brand and you pay a bit of extra money for that.

"We're always going to be competitive with everyone. We want the best coverage and the best people and we're all in the business of trying to do that."

Interestingly, two of the game's biggest stars, Johnathan Thurston and Paul Gallen, are not aligned to either network.

Thurston has knocked back approaches from both stations and will appear whenever available. Gallen is on both networks because of his role as NSW State of Origin captain.

Sharks hooker Michael Ennis and Dragons star Benji Marshall are also under contract to Fox Sports. They cannot appear on a rival network before their Wednesday night appearance on NRL 360 each week.

Nine has James Maloney, Sam Thaiday, Matt Moylan and Slater on exclusive deals.

- Daily Telegraph