NRL backs fresh push for Manly-Souths to take premiership game to US

Manly and South Sydney are keen to revisit plans to face each other in an NRL premiership match in the US as early as 2023.

The concept, originally dubbed “round zero”, to stage the first NRL clash outside of Australia or New Zealand was well advanced until COVID-19 scuppered the project. However, with international travel set to resume for the vaccinated, the clubs have expressed renewed interest in facing off in a potentially lucrative new market.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys has already revealed an intention to cash in on the explosion in legalised sports betting in the US, hoping the code can grab a piece of the $500 billion-plus that was previously wagered on the black market.

The Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs believe the best way to showcase the sport in America is to take a competition game there and the proposal has the backing of head office. The clubs are in a unique promotional position given Souths fan Russell Crowe and Manly counterpart Hugh Jackman would likely lend their heavyweight support.

Many chairman and co-owner Scott Penn, who has an understanding of the American sporting market from the time he spends in the country, believes the bold foray would be a successful one.

“No question, it makes total sense,” Penn said. “That’s the opportunity, to showcase the NRL and the spectacle of the game. I think there’s big potential.

Russell Crowe could help promote an NRL game in the US.Credit:Quentin Jones

“A couple of the NFL teams just played in London. To expand the game, we’d love to play. I’d love to encourage Hugh Jackman to support us and have Russell Crowe there to help make a spectacle of it.

“I’ve spoken to Peter and Andrew [Abdo, NRL chief executive] about it previously. Obviously COVID threw a big spanner into the works.

“We were always talking about how Manly-Souths would be an absolute cracker of a game. Having some heavyweight Hollywood talent on each side showing interest would be helpful.

“We are definitely interested. I see no reason why 2023 can’t be a possibility.”

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South Sydney chief executive Blake Solly said the grand finalists were also keen on the concept.

“Clearly the pandemic put an end to the previous discussions about a game in the US,” Solly said.

“However, if the ARLC and International Rugby League are serious about using an NRL premiership game as the starting point for a long-term strategy to grow the sport in the US from 2023, we would be keen to be part of it.”

Rugby league’s last major foray into the American market was the ill-fated Denver Test match between New Zealand and England. The promoter failed to meet his obligations after suffering a financial loss, but that hasn’t dissuaded the NRL from wanting to take a premiership game there as soon as 2023.

“It’s definitely 100 per cent in the mix because of the potential of revenue coming from sports betting from the United States,” V’landys said.

“Because of COVID, 2022 is out of the picture, but 2023, absolutely. We take Russell for granted here, but he’s a superstar in America and so is Hugh Jackman. They are two high-profile people that the Americans would lap up with a game over there.

“They are ready-made promotions for the tribal rivalry [our game brings].”

Penn, who has already broached the potential American foray with major sponsor PointsBet, said the NRL’s decision to explore the lucrative gambling market was a prudent one.

“It’s massive, it’s a huge opportunity,” Penn said. “Once again, it comes down to content. A lot of the big sports betting agencies are looking for content and the NRL has such a fantastic product that hasn’t had a lot of exposure in the US.

“It plays well for anyone I’ve watched it with in the US, they all say ‘Wow, that’s amazing, how do they do that without pads?’

“It’s a phenomenal product, it’s fast, it’s entertaining and there is a result from each game.

“The unpredictable nature of the game, that’s what it is all about. That’s what sports bookies seem to like, having pretty even teams so that anyone can win on their day.

“There have been a few blowouts, but that’s because it’s a momentum game. But anyone can still win on their day and that’s very appealing to sports betting agencies. I think it has huge potential in the US.”

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