Rugby League

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World Cup windfall has all eyes on Wembley

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A record Test crowd for Saturday's World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand at Old Trafford and the commercial success of the tournament may prompt NRL officials to seriously consider taking a premiership match or Origin fixture to England.

The success of the World Cup and the fact 74,468 fans attended a match not featuring the host nation demonstrated that the British public has a genuine interest in watching rugby league played at the highest level.

While England is home to 13 Super League clubs, there is no doubt the NRL is a superior competition that many view in a similar way as they do the NFL and NBA.

Certainly, leading football administrators, including Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, are believed to think that way after meeting NRL boss Dave Smith during his 10-day visit to the UK for the World Cup.

Smith and other members of the NRL management team also met with senior executives from Manchester United, Arsenal's head of marketing Angus Kinnear, Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie, as well as Minister for Sport, Helen Grant and London's Commissioner for Sport Kate Hoey.

It is understood the possibility of playing a premiership or State of Origin match in England has been discussed and such a move would represent an opportunity to promote the NRL brand to a wider audience.


The NFL played two matches at Wembley this year, with both the Jacksonville Jaguars-San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings-Pittsburgh Steelers games drawing crowds of more than 83,000.

A further three matches have been scheduled at Wembley next year and it has been widely reported in the United States that the NFL wants to eventually have a team based in London.

From a rugby league perspective, an Origin match at Wembley Stadium would also showcase the game at its best in a city where the London Broncos are on the verge of collapse after years of dwindling crowds and income.

With Super League struggling financially, rival club officials that this column spoke to during the World Cup are ready to write off the Broncos as a failed, 18-year experiment.

An informal meeting of club bosses on Tuesday is expected to discuss reducing the number of Super League teams from 14 to 12 next season.

However, many in Australia would question the damage to the game's credibility without a team based in London and it is understood Smith and NRL game development manager Andrew Hill met with Broncos chief executive Gus Mackay 10 days ago.

According to The Global Financial Centres Index released in March, London is the leading financial centre in the world and is therefore home to many of the world's biggest companies - generating sponsorship and commercial opportunities if the NRL was to take a match there.

The World Cup semi-final double-header at Wembley Stadium two weeks ago attracted a crowd of 67,545 between England and New Zealand, and Australia and Fiji.

World Cup matches were watched by 457,483 fans and saw sell-out crowds at a wide range of venues, including Huddersfield, Warrington, Rochdale, Halifax, Perpignan, Toulouse and Old Trafford.

Tournament organisers say the World Cup generated more than $5 million in profits, which will now be used to promote the game internationally.

Perhaps the NRL will also help by taking a match to England.