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Push for NRL season opener in China

China back on the table: Plans to play a NRL match in the Asian country have been rekindled.

China back on the table: Plans to play a NRL match in the Asian country have been rekindled. Photo: Getty Images

Plans to take rugby league to China are back on the table after Manly and Canberra  pushed for a historic NRL season opener to be held there next year.

The Sea Eagles smashed the Raiders 54-18 at Brookvale Oval last weekend in a clash both teams had originally tried to stage in Shenzhen.

However, those plans were scuppered last year when the Australian Rugby League Commission opted not to fork out the funds necessary to underwrite the round-eight fixture in Asia.

Having put more than 18 months of planning and due diligence into the venture, both clubs were disillusioned with the governing body's decision and it appeared the bold proposal would be shelved forever.

However, the vision of Super League supremo John Ribot, who trumpeted his desire to take rugby league to China 16 years ago, is not dead yet.

Manly boss David Perry and Canberra counterpart Don Furner caught up when their teams played each other last weekend to further refine their proposal to make the trip happen.

Much of the due diligence has already been done. The NRL engaged Red Tape Consulting's Tom Parker, the man who helped to take an AFL exhibition match to China, to put together a feasibility study.

Parker did the groundwork before the Melbourne Demons took on the Brisbane Lions at Jiangwan Sports Centre in Shanghai four years ago.

That match was an exhibition, played in front of 7000 spectators. However, the NRL clubs want to be playing for competition points, in round one no less, in front of a much bigger audience.

"We would clearly like to re-engage with the NRL and our partners to discuss the fantastic opportunity to promote this game in a market which is the fastest-growing, economy wise, in the world," Perry said.

"We still have significant interest from our sponsors and the game as a whole will benefit if we open our minds and get into that market."

Manly's major sponsor, Kaspersky, and Raiders backer Huawei, are keen for the event to happen. A sellout is likely at the 60,000-seat Shenzhen Stadium, situated an hour north of Hong Kong, as Huawei has as many employees in the region.

The clubs are in talks with other commercial partners interested in finally making the proposal a reality.

"It's not dead and buried," Perry said. "There are some influential people behind the scenes who would like to see it happen.

"By doing it in round one, it would make the opening round of the NRL a huge event."

It's understood the preferred timeslot would be the opening Friday night game. The Nine Network has previously stated the proposal had some merit but would need to be briefed further.

It's understood the NRL was prepared to commit up to $750,000 over three years to the project, while the clubs wanted $500,000 of that sum channelled into the first of a two-season deal, with the option of a third.

The NRL's head of strategy, Shane Mattiske, was the man chiefly involved in negotiations from head office but he has subsequently resigned and will finish up in June.

NRL chief executive Dave Smith recently outlined a new club funding model, which included a growth fund to encourage innovative ideas. The Raiders and Sea Eagles are hoping their ambitious plans to launch into China will qualify under the new funding scheme, which will come into effect in November.

Taking first-grade matches overseas was not part of the ARLC's strategic five-year plan but the decision to give the green light to the Auckland Nines tournament, the brainchild of promoters Duco Events, is evidence they will consider new proposals.

Another plus for the project is the fact an increasing number of Asian companies are sponsoring clubs, and there are hopes more will come on board if it gets the go-ahead.

Raiders chief executive Don Furner could not be contacted for comment.


21 comments so far

  • Why not they will get better crowds in China than here!!!

    Date and time
    May 03, 2014, 11:32PM
    • There is absolutely no point in an exhibition game in China if its a one-off. If there's a strategy behind it then let me read it.

      This is a stupid idea. Just like that one-off Qld v NSW game in 1987 in Los Angeles. Waste. Of. Time.

      Date and time
      May 04, 2014, 10:01AM
  • Sounds great, but how exactly is a sell-out of a 60 000 seat stadium "likely"?

    Joe the expat
    The Hague
    Date and time
    May 04, 2014, 2:18AM
    • China?.. CHINA !!!???

      So the officials from those sterling stalwarts of NRL socialism, Manly and the mob from the holy city think taking the money path to the people's republic of footy is the way to go, eh? Fair enough too, they couldn't run a local chook raffle so why not try and run a fantasy comp... Good luck with getting your guys out of there after a drunken night on the red bull, pills and schooners...


      somewhere south of Shabghai
      Date and time
      May 04, 2014, 3:39AM
      • i say y go to a country that doesn't no anything bout league.if manly wants to go they shud promote it themselves

        Date and time
        May 04, 2014, 6:17AM
        • I like how they're trying innovations like this (the Manly and Canberra fans might not, for this particular game anyway).
          Even if it doesn't work out, they're trying things out and not being stagnate in developing the game. The AFL is good at promoting innovation, the NRL and its clubs hopefully will be more proactive in this area as well.

          out there
          Date and time
          May 04, 2014, 6:37AM
          • What an exciting initiative. China has been screaming out for NRL action for years.

            Will there be buses leaving from Central?

            Date and time
            May 04, 2014, 7:30AM
            • One word may simply sum this up. WHY ?

              Haven't we learnt from moving Origin matches to Melbourne ?

              Can someone get in touch with John Ribot & we can all take a time machine ride back to 1995 !

              Maybe move the club game to NZ ; maybe even Perth. Or maybe given the NRL's focus they say the now have on refocussing on the country how about take the game to somewhere even closer like NSW country ?

              Date and time
              May 04, 2014, 7:31AM
              • Why? Say 30,000 people (half the expected crowd) spend at least $20 on merchandise just for memorabilia or novelty value. That's $600K. Ticket prices at even $10 that's $300K. Almost $1 million from ONE game.

                Will people go? Chinese employees will do what they're told to do by their bosses.

                Date and time
                May 04, 2014, 11:20AM
            • Good idea, its the only place they are likely to get a decent crowd!

              Date and time
              May 04, 2014, 7:52AM

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