NRL officials plan to use State of Origin to grow the game in new markets around Australia and overseas, with Auckland, Perth and even London possible venues after the new deal to play matches at the MCG in 2015 and 2018 expires.
After announcing after the last match in Melbourne in 2012 that an Origin would be played at a neutral venue every third season, the NRL confirmed on Monday that games would return to the Victorian capital next season and in 2018, but it now believes the matches have outgrown Etihad Stadium and its capacity of 53,000.
NRL director of commercial and marketing Paul Kind said he was confident of attracting crowds of more than 70,000 at the MCG and believed the game was now as strong as it had been when a crowd of 87,161 set what is still the State of Origin attendance record at the venue in 1994.
"I was involved with the game in 1994 ... and the game had momentum, it was being talked about, it presented itself well, and I look at it now and I think we are back in a situation where all of those things are lining up for us again," Kind said.
"Origin is just growing every year at the moment, it just seems to be building on its own momentum and to take it to another level is challenging. We have set ourselves a big goal and if we deliver a near-capacity MCG next year in game two that just takes Origin to another plain, which is just fantastic."
Under the NRL's Origin strategy, NSW gets two home games one year, Queensland has two the following year and they each host one match the third year with the other game to be played at a neutral venue.
An Origin has been played in Melbourne every third year since 2006 but previously either NSW or Queensland had to forego a home match to play there, whereas the Blues will now host two games at ANZ Stadium in 2016.
Given the NRL rejected a A$12 million (NZ$13.13 million) offer from the Victorian government for six Origins in 2012, it is believed the new deal is worth more than A$2 million per match.
However, money isn't the only incentive and Kind said the NRL would consider taking Origin anywhere it believed would help grow the game, with Perth a strong possibility in 2021 if the city gets its own team before then.
"In the future that neutral match is designed to be played in growth areas and the new 60,000 Perth stadium comes on line in 2018 and you have obviously got Eden Park [in Auckland]," Kind said.
"We have agreed on the next two in Victoria but the match is definitely designed to be used as a growth opportunity in the same way that other major sports have premium events that they can play around the country and overseas."
Fairfax Media reported last December that interest had been expressed to senior NRL officials about staging a premiership match or Origin in London during a series of meetings held with the likes of Premier League boss Richard Scudamore, Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie, UK Minister for Sport Helen Grant and London's Commissioner for Sport Kate Hoey while in England for the World Cup.
Kind said there had been no discussion about playing Origin at Wembley in 2015 or 2018 but would not rule it out beyond then.
"I think the opportunity will be there to grow it in new locations in the future," he said. "It really depends on what the premiership looks like beyond the next rights deal and I think now we will be set up to have a discussion about what the premiership looks like and how Origin works within the premiership across the 26 weeks or fewer in the future."
- Sydney Morning Herald
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