The Cronulla Sharks have picked Christchurch to prepare for the Auckland Nines and will attempt to boost their support base in earthquake-ravaged city.
The Sharks will spend two full days in the city before heading north for the inaugural short-form version of the code at Eden Park next weekend - a tournament they are taking seriously, given their need for a cash injection.
Fined A$1 million (NZ$1.09m) by the National Rugby League for their involvement in the sports supplement scandal enveloping rugby league and the Australian Football League - and with head coach Shane Flanagan suspended for 12 months and three former players taking legal action - the Sharks will welcome some respite during a schedule of training and promotional opportunities.
The visit, part of the NRL's community carnival, might also lead to the club holding an NRL game at AMI Stadium, the original Addington Showgrounds which served as the code's home in Christchurch before it was redeveloped to accommodate rugby.
Cronulla have more pressing concerns than relocating a future home game against the New Zealand Warriors to Christchurch, but the club already has an association with the city through an affiliation with the Halswell Hornets.
Chief executive Steve Noyce, who took over the Sharks amid the ongoing Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation, also has a long-term link with Christchurch.
He was chief executive at the Wests Tigers and Sydney Roosters when those clubs played the Warriors at the old Lancaster Park in 2006 and 2010 respectively.
"Steve's really big on helping raise awareness," Cronulla community engagement officer George Nour said.
"We identified a bit of an opportunity in Christchurch, given our existing relationship with the Hornets.
"We heard the Warriors don't do too much in the South Island so there is a bit of an opportunity there for us to help them [the league community] out a bit."
Nour said that while the Sharks' priority obviously remained in Sydney's Sutherland shire, he would welcome a "home" game in Christchurch to build on their current involvement.
Sharks development staff have previously held clinics and trials in the city and have former Hornets player Fa'amau Brown in their nines squad.
The team arrive late on Monday and have a hospital visit, training at Lincoln University and a coaching clinic for 300 children at the New Zealand Institute of Sport planned the following day.
Visits to 10 schools to promote the NRL's Tackle Bullying campaign and a function to raise money for the Canterbury Rugby League at Christchurch Casino are the highlights of Wednesday's programme.
If Cronulla return to Christchurch for a NRL game it will be the second time they have surrendered home advantage to venture across the Tasman.
In 2011 they played the Warriors in Taupo, the first stage of a three-year deal that was discontinued before game two.
The first-grade squad last visited Christchurch during the 2002 pre-season, a disastrous PR exercise after a 19-year-old waitress claimed she had non-consensual sex with multiple players.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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