Melbourne the place for NRL to grow
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The decision by the NRL to again take the opening game of a State of Origin series to Melbourne is one that shows the game is very serious about growing.
With doubts as to whether the NRL can compete with an ever-growing AFL that has already made its statement in rugby league heartlands, they simply must promote themselves in the southern capital to stay in the race for popularity.
Officially, it will be the sixth time in the series’ history that the cockroaches will face the cane toads in neutral territory, and the third time in six years.
Melbourne has always been known for its passion for sport, and this is greatly evident by the crowds that turn up to events of any sport, and membership numbers held by AFL clubs.
This is in drastic contrast to Sydney.
Sydney’s largest regular season NRL match in 2011 at the Sydney Football Stadium attracted 34,976 people. Melbourne’s AFL equivalent at the MCG attracted 89,626 – a difference of 54,650.
While the MCG is much larger than the Sydney Football Stadium, the 80,000-capacity Stadium Australia had a largest crowd of just 34,322.
Last season the NRL endured 19 games attracting less than 10,000 people. The AFL had just one.
This is why the NRL is making a great move in taking another Origin match to Melbourne. It is a city where it can truly gain more popularity, where a sports-mad population will turn out in droves to games.
It is from here expansion will best take place.
The other states primarily follow AFL and turn their eyes to Melbourne regularly. If they see significant rugby league games happening there, the game’s range of influence spreads.
It would be hard to get the same affect going elsewhere, as no other city has a greater influence in the sporting world.
The last two Origin matches played in Melbourne have been at Docklands stadium, a stadium with 53,339 seats, and saw crowds of 54,833 and 50,967 respectively.
Let’s not forget that Melbourne has nine AFL clubs and one NRL club, but still, they have filled the stadium twice watching a sport some wouldn’t have known a thing about. So what’s to say the same success won’t occur?
In 1998, the Melbourne Storm entered the national rugby league competition. Historically, they average home crowd numbers of only 11,814, but when it comes to finals in Melbourne, that number jumps to 21,541.
The first figure is still larger than five other current NRL clubs.
Although the Storm’s membership has not come close to that of AFL club numbers, in 2008 the Storm had the highest membership of any NRL club. They were voted the most popular Melbourne sporting team in 2009.
Melbournians love supporting the big games, and are showing a healthy faith in Victoria’s only premier rugby league team.
As the AFL continue their attack on Sydney by targeting the country’s most populated suburban area, the NRL must do the same in our greatest sporting zone.
It may not be permissible yet to launch a second Melbourne club, but the NRL must continue taking big games there for the purpose of growth.