Raiders, Manly, China
The chances of the proposed Canberra-Manly game in China getting the green light have been boosted by Channel Nine throwing its considerable weight behind the watershed fixture.
In an ironic twist, given its recent reluctance to show Raiders games, Nine has expressed strong interest in broadcasting the first NRL fixture outside of Australia and New Zealand next year.
The free-to-air broadcaster's conditional backing is a significant development as powerbrokers work feverishly to ratify the match.
Raiders' major sponsor Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications company, is keen to know if the game is going ahead.
Huawei Australia director of corporate and public relations Jeremy Mitchell said the company plans to invite NRL boss David Smith and ARL commissioners to a board meeting in China in early December, where it is hoped the match will be rubber stamped.
It was initially hoped the fixture, which would be held in Shenzhen, would be a stand-alone season opener, but officials are now targeting April or early May.
''Channel Nine's been fully briefed. It was them who suggested the game be moved from the beginning of the season to that time - it suited them better,'' Mitchell said. ''They're also keen to get The Footy Show to go over for it, [and] in the first few rounds that would have been harder.''
The NRL has appointed independent consultant Tom Parker, the mastermind behind the 2010 AFL exhibition match in Shanghai between Brisbane Lions and Melbourne, to oversee proceedings.
Manly's major sponsor, Russian IT company Kaspersky, was the Demons' sponsor at the time.
Last week, Parker met with the Shenzhen government, which indicated it is keen to also stage an NRL match in 2015.
He will meet with the Chinese federal government this week, and many Chinese and Australian business have shown interest in helping with sponsorship.
''The NRL's never put on a game in China, so they've hired an expert who's done it before,'' Mitchell said.
''We have a Huawei Australia board meeting in China in December, and we're going to invite the CEO of the NRL to come up there and visit Shenzhen, and hopefully finalise the date. We've had many companies keen to come on board with sponsorship and any cost for the NRL would be minimal, it would be self-funding.''
In other developments:
■ Two stadiums with capacities of 40,000 and 60,000 respectively have been identified as suitable in Shenzhen, where 60,000 Huawei employees are based.
■ The ACT government has advised the NRL it fully supports the fixture.
■ South Sydney and Melbourne Storm have also indicated their interest in playing in China.
■ Talks are ongoing with Chinese national sports broadcaster CCTV about beaming the game across the world's most populous country.
''The fact they [Shenzhen government] were keen to make this a two-year commitment is encouraging,'' Mitchell said. ''It showed they think it's a good idea, and want it to go further than the proposal we took to them.
''We're hoping we'd be able to highlight Canberra's tourism, and showcase the city as a destination for Chinese investment because of the Raiders link.''