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NRL News: NFL owner wants to buy league franchise after Vegas debut, Kiwi star to retire, Raiders duo face uncertain future

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5th March, 2024
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The owner of the San Francisco 49ers, Al Guido, has expressed interest in buying an NRL franchise following the Las Vegas double-header which attracted more than 40,000 fans to Allegiant Stadium.

Guido, whose team made this year’s Super Bowl, has had an international focus as 49ers owner and has bought a share of English football club Leeds United so he knows the value of looking beyond the United States borders.

He addressed the ARL Commission and club executives during a conference at Las Vegas and he thinks private equity firms would also be keen to buy into the NRL franchises.

“To us Leeds fit the persona. It was a team that has historical context, it had won championships, it fell on tough teams, it was a one team town, massive support even in the championship. It has worked out so far,” he told NewsCorp.

“If that worked in rugby (league) for the right club, would we take a look? Absolutely.

“At the Niners, we like the thought of multi-sport ownership. It is not a new concept. We will look at anything that has a passionate fan base because to us it starts with that.”

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Under Guido’s watch, the Niners have played games in England, Mexico and Germany as they try to broaden their international appeal.

He gave the NRL’s attempt to crack the US sports market the thumbs-up.

“I think it is very ambitious,” Guido said.

“But I think it is an interesting move. I think it follows a lot of what the NFL went though when they thought about having an international strategy.

“A couple of things I think they are doing really well – having games that matter. I think kicking off the season in Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the US, on the heels of playing the Super Bowl here is really smart.”

Terrell May of the Roosters is tackled by Tyson Smoothy of the Broncos

Terrell May is tackled by Tyson Smoothy at Allegiant Stadium. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The true marker for the NRL will come when American TV ratings are released later this week, but this was an early win after drawing a crowd of 40,706 that included 14,000 travelling fans from Australia.

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“We’ve got a long way to go. It’s still a long journey. It won’t happen overnight,” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said. 

“But we’ve always believed in our sport. We’ve always believed in the entertainment element of our sport. And we think that there’s so much to offer US sports fans. 

“So to get that type of feedback is obviously cool. That’s obviously how we want to market the game going forward here.” 

The NRL must now piece together how their 2025 Vegas expedition looks, with the vast majority of club bosses showing an interest in playing in the event.

Manly and the Sydney Roosters have also shown an interest in returning, however the NRL must decide if they want to rotate teams as they decide who will come next year.

Also up for discussion is how soon a women’s game can be added, after the talent at the NRL combine proved that is a space where the NRL can take great leaps in the USA.

There is also potential of English involvement, particularly at a time when head office is considering making a move to buy the Super League.

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Bromwich hanging up the boots

Dolphins captain Jesse Bromwich has confirmed he will retire at the end of the 2024 season.

Bromwich, 34, said his body had been through enough and would bring down the curtain on his stellar career at the end of 2024 after winning three premierships for Melbourne and playing 34 Tests for New Zealand.

He said the Dolphins would be in good hands in 2025 if prop Thomas Flegler or lock Tom Gilbert were made skipper.

“If they want to have a long-term captain there are two that come to mind. I am a bit biased as a forward but Tom Flegler and Tom Gilbert, either one of them would do a good job,” Bromwich said.

“It is just the way they train. I can see them leading this group the way they should be led. They are both very vocal and say the right things. If I look at them they both live a certain way and are professional.

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“We have a few other good candidates, a few older heads. It just depends what the club wants to do.”

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 22: Jesse Bromwich of the Kiwis (C) is tackled during the Oceania league test between the Kiwis and Mate Ma'a Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium on June 22, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Jesse Bromwich. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Future uncertain for Raiders veterans

Two Canberra stalwarts will go into the 2024 NRL season unsure if it’s their last as they delay tricky calls on their playing future.

Captain Elliott Whitehead, 34, and 31-year-old champion prop Josh Papali’i have been non-committal on the matter – despite the former previously indicating he planned to hang up his boots at the end of the season.

Whitehead is out of contract at the end of 2024, while Papali’i and the Raiders have a mutual option to extend his deal for 2025, as the players gauge their health and status within the squad before making a definitive call.

“I’ll see how I’m playing and how my body’s feeling,” Whitehead told AAP. 

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“It’s feeling good at the moment, so I don’t want to call it too early, look back and wish I hadn’t.”

The skipper said he would sit down with coach Ricky Stuart and CEO Don Furner when the time was right, but would “rather get into the season and see how I’m feeling before I start making decisions”.

“Every time I go away and play for England, I go pretty well and then I feel like I’ve still got it,” he said. 

“I’ll see if I’m ready to hang the boots up and call it a day, but I’m not too sure where my head’s at … it’s a big decision.”

Whitehead is on track to pass 200 club games in 2024 – he enters the season on 189 – while Papali’i could become just the third Raider to the 300 mark. He begins the campaign on 282.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Samoa international and former Queensland front-rower Papali’i missed the back-end of last year after surgery on a biceps tendon injury. 

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He looked lean and as explosive as ever in a short trial stint against North Queensland on February 25.

“I’m still the same weight as last year, just more happy off field … still sitting at 116kg, which is very good for me,” he told AAP.

“I’m just taking it one year at a time, I’m not looking too far ahead.

“I don’t want to look into the 2025 season, we’re stuck in 2024 and I want to keep it that way.”

There’s no shortage of middle-forwards in the nation’s capital, with established representative stars Joe Tapine and Corey Horsburgh joined by an emerging young crew including Ata Mariota, Trey Mooney, Pasami Saulo, Morgan Smithies and Hohepa Puru.

with AAP

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