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  • Lloyd Rothwell

Australia’s National Rugby League to Open Season in Vegas

After months of speculation, Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) has announced a double-header at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders, will kick off the 2024 season.

CEO of the NRL, Andrew Abdo, confirmed four clubs will make the trip to the US: Brisbane Broncos, Manly Sea Eagles, South Sydney Rabbitohs, and Sydney Roosters, with the games scheduled to kick off on March 2, which coincides with a Sunday afternoon broadcast into Australia.

The matches will be the first ever regular season games staged outside of Australia and New Zealand. Abdo stated that the 2024 Las Vegas season opener would form the centrepiece of an “Australia Week” showcasing Australia to the US.

Allegiant Stadium, Photo by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey

He went on to say: “We are now working collaboratively with the four clubs to finalise arrangements for the proposed matches in Las Vegas and make this a blockbuster event for fans by maximising travel, attendance, and enjoyment of a unique rugby league experience. Rugby league will be on a stage which the sport has simply never been on before and we look forward to giving all clubs the opportunity in coming years.”

Reports suggest the Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs were strategic inclusions given their high-profile supporters include the likes of Hugh Jackman (Manly) and Russell Crowe (South Sydney), which will assist in marketing the event.

However, cynics are well aware that the NRL’s enthusiasm for Vegas is a bid to cash in on the explosion of legalised sports betting in America rather than to grow the sport of rugby league.

Australians are among the biggest gamblers in the world, but recently there have been calls for the federal government to implement tougher regulations, particularly around advertising during live sport broadcasts.

The last big-time rugby league match to be staged in North America was an international between New Zealand and England, held in 2018 at Mile High Stadium in Denver. However, the event was a financial disaster which resulted in the national bodies of NZ and England eventually writing off debts worth more than $300,000 each.

Rugby league is a similar but separate sport to its better-known cousin, rugby union – however its popularity is largely limited to Australia, New Zealand, England, and the Pacific Islands.

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