The NRL has come good on its promise to keep rugby league in the bush following its scrapping of the City Country fixture, announcing it will host seven matches at regional venues across NSW and Queensland in 2018.
As revealed by the Herald in August, the latest fixture will be the most expansive yet for the NRL, which will also host an opening-round double header in Perth.
Five Sydney clubs have opted to take matches away from the big city next year, while the Gold Coast Titans will play games in Gladstone and Toowoomba.
“We have said for some time it was our strong desire to take more games to regional venues in 2018, and we’re extremely happy to have been able to do that as part of the new schedule,” NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said.
“It will be great to see so many people in regional areas being able to witness the best of rugby league up close in 2018.”
Ex-NSW coach Laurie Daley this year called on the NRL to expand its footprint in the bush following the announcement it was abandoning the City Country concept.
City versus Country was once a genuine NSW Blues State Of Origin trial, but the concept descended into a farce in its final rendition when Canterbury, Canberra and North Queensland didn’t allow their players to feature in the game.
This year’s game was held in Mudgee, which will host two major fixtures in 2018. St George Illawarra will play South Sydney in the annual pre-season Charity Shield, before the Dragons take an NRL match to the central western town.
Penrith will take a game to Bathurst as part of the Panthers’ 10-year agreement to take one match there a season, while the Wests Tigers are to host a fixture in Tamworth.
Gosford will host two NRL games next season – the Sydney Roosters will play another home game there, while South Sydney is also taking a match to the Central Coast.
“We always said that, if the Country verses City match was to be discontinued, we needed to see more NRL games in regional areas,” Country Rugby League CEO Terry Quinn said.
“We have secured those extra matches and it means fans will be able to see NRL games in more regional areas than ever before.”
The NSW government announced a $100 million regional sports infrastructure fund in August, aimed at improving sporting venues across the state.
Part of the project is expanding the capacity of country and regional rugby league venues, which would allow more NRL matches to be played in the bush.
Seiffert Oval in Queanbeyan, which the Raiders called home in their first eight seasons, is one of several venues across the state eager for an upgrade to bring it up to NRL standard.
The NRL’s announcement to take more games to the bush follows plans to schedule four double-headers next season.
Two weeks after the Perth fixture, ANZ Stadium will host a rare Sydney double-header where the Rabbitohs take on Manly, and Parramatta plays Cronulla.
Brisbane and Auckland will also host back-to-back matches next year.