The NRL’s decision to go back to the bush must be applauded

Riley Pettigrew Roar Guru

By , Riley Pettigrew is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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    Paul Gallen in action for City in the final City vs Country Origin match in 2017 (NRL Photos/Grant Trouville)

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    Last night the National Rugby League revealed that premiership matches will be taken to a number of regional locations throughout New South Wales and Queensland.

    Bathurst, Cairns, Gladstone, Gosford, Mudgee, Tamworth and Toowoomba will all host NRL games in 2018, the most regional venues played at in the NRL’s history.

    It is a move that will not only make the product look better on television but also help to nurture rugby league heartlands and provide a boost to the local communities.

    The Dragons will head to Glen Willows Regional Stadium in Mudgee for an NRL match while also playing the Rabbitohs for the Charity Shield in the pre-season.

    The Wests Tigers head to northwest New South Wales to play at Tamworth’s Scully Park while the Penrith Panthers will continue their longstanding partnership with Bathurst at Carrington Park.

    The Central Coast, a rugby league heartland home to over 300,000 people, will also receive games from both the Roosters and Rabbitohs at Gosford.

    Regional Queensland won’t be short of games either with the Commonwealth Games forcing the Titans to head to Gladstone in Central Queensland and Toowoomba in the Darling Downs.

    The Rabbitohs will once again play a game in Cairns at Barlow Park.

    The NRL’s commitment to bringing elite rugby league to regional New South Wales and Queensland is a sign that they are on the right track toward venue allocation.

    It comes days after the announcement of four double-headers.

    Perth Stadium will host four teams on opening weekend with South Sydney taking on the Warriors before the Bulldogs do battle with reigning premiers Melbourne Storm.

    Just two weeks later the Rabbitohs will once again feature as part of a double-header at ANZ Stadium taking on the Sea Eagles before the Eels and Sharks go head-to-head, the event coinciding with the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

    Round 5 will then see Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium host the Wests Tigers and Storm, as well as a game between the Warriors and Cowboys.

    The fourth and final double-header for the 2018 season will see the Storm and Titans go at it again before the Sea Eagles and Broncos continue a rugby league festival at Suncorp Stadium.

    With the NRL now taking control of the draw from the television networks and a number of venue contracts, especially in Sydney, coming to an end, the NRL are taking the opportunity to reassess where each team plays games.

    The NRL should take one step further by ensuring that all teams take at least one game to a regional town as well as an additional fixture in a city underserviced by the NRL. Think the Titans taking games to Toowoomba and Port Moresby, the Dragons playing in Mudgee and Suva, and the Bulldogs playing in Dubbo and Perth.

    An exception will be made for the Broncos – yes they get special treatment but only because they averaged crowds of over 30,000, double that of the competition average. The Raiders, Storm, Knights and Cowboys will only be required to take one game away.

    As part of this initiative, the NRL will hold two rounds each year (likely in the State of Origin period) dedicated to the bush.

    Imagine having a whole round of rugby league in Wagga Wagga, Toowoomba, Taranaki, Geelong, Gosford, Bathurst, Mudgee and Dubbo.

    It’s just one more step in the right direction.