NRL boss wants to see more 'Road Warriors'

Buoyed by the 30,000-plus crowd at Wellington's Cake Tin last weekend new National Rugby League boss Dave Smith wants the Warriors to play more home games around New Zealand.

Smith told Fairfax Media he was devising a strategy for New Zealand that included the Warriors being on the road more often.

"It [Wellington's Westpac Stadium] is a brilliant stadium, and Wellington is a great place to play footy," Smith said. "It was great that we could get that many fans to watch the game, and it shows the appeal of our game.

"I want to encourage the Warriors to play the game more widely across New Zealand.

"We know New Zealanders are sports nuts, and that this is a game they will like. So I will be encouraging the Warriors to play in the best stadiums they can, and with the best attendances we can get."

Smith said he believed the Warriors were key to also increasing playing numbers in New Zealand.

"New Zealand is a very important growth market for us," he added.

"From a development perspective, there are a lot of good players that are attracted to our game, and by playing our game more widely across centres through New Zealand, we'll get more participation."

Smith's public endorsement of the Auckland-based franchise becoming "Road Warriors" comes at a time when the club is at an increasingly frustrating impasse with super-city council administrators over facilities at Mt Smart Stadium.

Mt Smart fails to meet the NRL's criteria of being a stadium up to international standards but the Warriors have been told by council officers that future investment will be minimal. The council is desperately trying to push the Warriors to Eden Park, but the club remains reluctant to move there because of the high running costs on game days.

The Warriors have already drawn big crowds in Wellington, Hamilton's Waikato Stadium and Dunedin's indoor Forsyth Barr Stadium for either trial matches or NRL games.

The temporary Christchurch Stadium also looms as another potential venue.

Warriors CEO Wayne Scurrah last night confirmed Smith's request.

"The NRL has raised it with us and we've raised it with them," he said.

"It could be more teams visiting here to play their home games against us, or the Warriors taking home games out of town which we've done for the first time this year. We've got to reassess that, and we've also got to understand what the stadium strategy is in Auckland, and how that comple ments our programme, too."

The Warriors have previously been reluctant to take home games out of Auckland for fear of upsetting season ticketholders and jeopardising revenue.

But Smith recently revealed the NRL will fund its 16 clubs on a "differential basis", according to their needs, and the code's overall strategic plan, raising the prospect of the Warriors being compensated for any loss of season ticket revenue. Scurrah said discussions with the NRL were more focused on growing the game around New Zealand and that money didn't have to be an issue.

"They [matches outside of Auckland] can financially stack up to be more profitable anyway, it's more about trying to spread the NRL product around," Scurrah said.

Meanwhile, Smith hasn't ruled out a second team in New Zealand under future NRL expansion plans, and also said it is possible that a State of Origin game could be played on this side of the Tasman.

Sunday Star Times