Raiders and Manly keen for opener in China
The Raiders and Manly may play in China next season. Photo: Cameron Spencer
Manly's plan to spread the NRL gospel in China is no gimmick as it continues negotiations to kick-start next season there against the Canberra Raiders.
Sea Eagles and Raiders officials met the NRL and broadcast partner Fox Sports last week to discuss the viability of moving a Manly home game to the world's most populous country.
Manly chief executive David Perry said the club was prepared to adopt a patient approach as it looked to form a long-term association with China.
''We wouldn't be doing this unless we thought there was some momentum and consistent frequency of having an event up there,'' Perry said yesterday.
''I think the plan would be to lock ourselves into a set term, and the NRL is certainly supportive of a game over there regularly in the future.
''If you're going to go down this path, you have to focus on a five-year plan at least in the short term to see if there's an opportunity to lock it away as a frequent event ongoing.
''You'd want to play three games in the next five years as a minimum to get a real feel for whether there's any opportunity in the future.''
Fox Sports has agreed in principle to the initiative, and is currently crunching the numbers to determine whether it is financially viable.
Should it give Manly its seal of approval, the NRL will then send a letter to the Chinese High Commission outlining the support it would require for the game to go ahead.
It is believed the match could be scheduled up to two weeks before the official season starts, giving both sides a chance to recover from the arduous travelling schedule before round two.
Canberra signed a major sponsorship deal with Chinese telecommunications company Huawei earlier this year. Manly's main backer, Russian IT company Kaspersky, also rates China as one of its key markets.
''You'd think we'd have to have Canberra and Manly playing over there for the first two years at least, to get some leverage for the sponsors and those that are helping us make it happen,'' Perry said.
''The NRL thinks the timing is good from their perspective because of the major sponsors of both clubs.
''We believe we can leverage the game stronger and get more traction because of it.''
Kaspersky was the major sponsor of AFL club Melbourne when it played an exhibition game in China against Brisbane Lions in 2010.
But Perry insisted the NRL had to play a fully-fledged competition game if it was serious about capturing China's imagination.
''They [the Demons] were really happy with that and you really can't measure it until you get a bit of frequency around it,'' he said.
''The initial one-off was a good one, but it was an exhibition game.
''We may as well take the proper event there to showcase the quality of the product we have and tap into an emerging market for the game.
''All key stakeholders are very motivated to make it happen in the best interests of the game, and we're in the early stages of due diligence in seeing whether it's feasible for next season or whether we work toward 2014.''