Hamilton is set for an annual Bulldogs NRL fixture should everything run smoothly in Sunday's match against the Warriors.
The Sydney-based team have brought their round 10 fixture to Waikato Stadium as they look to connect with their New Zealand-based fans.
It will be Hamilton's third taste of NRL action, having previously hosted Parramatta Eels matches against the Warriors in 2005 and 2006, along with Warriors pre-season games in 2004, 2009, 2013 and this year.
But it's the Bulldogs who now want a piece of the city. Thier chief executive Raelene Castle said the club reviewed a number of different options around where to play in New Zealand, but Hamilton ticked the most boxes.
''One, it's the closest to Auckland, so it makes the travel reasonable for our athletes, but also it means that the Warriors fans can jump in the car and be in Hamilton in an hour and a half,'' she said.
''Also the rectangle stadium is a real attraction to make sure that you have that intimate rugby league experience. And thirdly, we believe it can be a very commercially sound option for us.''
Pre-sales for the game are hitting around 13,000 and Castle said that crowd figure would be very positive in its own right, but she was looking forward to it increasing with walk-ups and that around 20,000 would make it ''very, very successful''.
A decent turnout like that would just further increase Hamilton's credentials.
''We're hopeful that we could develop a long-term relationship with someone like Hamilton, and New Zealand,'' Castle, the former Netball New Zealand boss, said.
"But this is certainly a very good trial for us, an option for us to look at all the different aspects and review how it goes, with the view that we'd like to form a long-term relationship with someone in New Zealand.''
That would mean one game a season, Castle confirmed.
The Bulldogs are also taking a match to Perth this year, and rather than worry about diminishing their home-ground advantage, they are keen to embrace their fans outside of their Canterbury base.
Castle said they wanted to bring a game here to repay fans on this side of the Tasman, and also try and grow that supporter base.
That includes upwards of 500 registered Bulldogs fans in New Zealand, though Castle knew there were clearly a heap more with the amount of blue and white jerseys she saw at the NRL Auckland Nines in February.
The significant Kiwi connection has come about through the club's playing roster, with the likes of Daryl Halligan and John Timu and in the current squad Frank Pritchard, Sam Kasiano, Krisnan Inu, Sam Perrett and Chase Stanley have all pulled on the black jersey.
''That New Zealand flavour has really permeated the halls of the Bulldogs at Belmore for a really long period of time,'' Castle said.
''And obviously the Steve Price factor when he came to the Warriors as well, there was still that Canterbury connection. There's a real history and association with New Zealanders.''
Both teams bring excellent form into the game, with the Bulldogs on a six-match winning streak and sitting at the top of the ladder, while the Warriors have put back to back victories together, including last weekend's 54-12 thumping of the Canberra Raiders.
Kickoff is at 4pm, with the Under-20 sides meeting at 1.45pm. Gates open at 1.30pm.
- Waikato Times
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