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Grow the Game Round: How the NRL can take top-grade footy to untapped areas

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15th October, 2021

The NRL has incorporated multiple popular themed rounds in the past few years, with Rivalry Round, Anzac Round, Superheroes Round, Men of League Round, Magic Round and Women in League Round to name a few.

With the admission of the Dolphins and endless discussion of the addition of an 18th club in the near future, I have been thinking of an idea to incorporate a pair of Grow the Game Rounds into the main draw of the NRL.

This would guarantee a game of NRL is played in a location without a team every year, and would be a form of expansion to new markets without actually adding a team there or further increasing the number of teams.

It would formalise relationships between NRL clubs and regional cities (some of which already have a relationship), develop opportunities for regional sponsors, drive regional attendance and viewership or subscriptions, develop pathways for players, and develop allegiances to clubs in regions not currently possessing an NRL team.

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NRL clubs could develop regional memberships with merchandise to further grow interest in their club in their adopted region. They could develop partnerships with local junior clubs and have first pick of developing players from their adopted region.

My idea borrows from the QRL Intrust Super Cup’s Country Week Round, where once a year all games are played in regional Queensland.

However, I would adapt it to two weeks so all 18 future clubs would take a home game each to an adopted second city across two rounds. I would take it further and incorporate the fixtures permanently into the draw, so residents of the cities in question could predict what game and when they would see the team play.

I have included the partnerships I have come up with in the list below. I have tried to base partnerships on existing ones, but did look up population data for the cities and tried to maximise the populations of the cities covered, as well as add a few new ones.

Rockhampton, Queensland
The stadium has recently hosted NRL for the first time, the region has high participation and interest, and has a previous feeder-club relationship with Broncos.

Brisbane Broncos fans.

(Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Gold Coast
Toowoomba, Queensland
The stadium has previously hosted Titans games and there is a current relationship between the Titans and TRL.

North Queensland
Port Moresby, PNG
The stadium has previously hosted Tests and the PM’s XIII, and hosts the Hunters in the QRL. It is an untapped market.


Sunshine Coast, Queensland
It is an adjacent region to the club, and allows a new club to grow into a market that is under-serviced.

Tamworth, NSW
Tamworth is a large city in the northern NSW region, which is unrepresented, and has hosted NRL before. They have a relationship with the Knights as they host clinics and camps there.

Knights fans

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Wagga Wagga, NSW
They have a current host relationship to the club.

New Zealand
Wellington, NZ
It is an adjacent region to club, which allows the club to grow to become a North Island team.

Adelaide, SA
It is an untapped market, and allows a new club to develop fans in a new area.

Hobart, Tasmania
This is the location of past pre-season trials, and Tasmania is an untapped market for rugby league.

South Sydney
Cairns, Queensland
They have a current host relationship to the club.


Dunedin, NZ
It is an untapped market in a region of NZ with no representation.

St George Illawarra
Albury-Wodonga, NSW/Victoria
The southernmost NSW club could gain fans in southern NSW and northern Victoria.

Central Coast, NSW
They have a current host relationship to the club.

Roosters fans

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Suva, Fiji
Fiji currently fields the Silktails in the NSW Cup. It is an untapped market in a new country.

Mackay, Queensland
Build on recent hosting of finals games. Mackay has a previous relationship with the club.

Darwin, NT
They have a current host relationship to the club.

Bathurst, NSW
They have a current host relationship to the club.


Christchurch, NZ
It is an untapped market in a region of NZ with no representation. They have a previous host relationship with the club.

I am by no means against further expansion or one of the proponents of ‘there’s not enough talent to expand’ arguments.

I think 18 teams would be sustainable in the short to medium term but I would be hesitant to grow too much too soon after that.

The two Grow the Game Rounds would be to ensure that most major cities in Australia and a few in the Pacific have access to at least one game per year.

If the attendance or general viewership participation in the partnership takes off, then that could be an indicator of a future expansion location, or a location where Magic Weekend, Prime Minister’s XIII tours, or trial games could be scheduled in order to further develop rugby league interest in that area.