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EDITORIAL | Why the NRL Needs Bush Footy

In disturbing news, the ACT Government has fined the Canberra Raiders $150,000 for taking one game away from Bruce Stadium to Wagga Wagga (against Penrith in round eight) next year.

Apparently the deal breaches the agreement to play every home game in Canberra.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the ACT “isn’t an island” and Canberra are the team for fans in Southern NSW, citing Laurie Daley (Junee), Terry Campese and Ricky Stuart (Queanbeyan) as example of the Raiders’ success in country NSW.

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Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

The fine is horribly short-sighted, as clubs should be encouraged to take game to the bush.

With the gradual demise of the NSW City v NSW Country game, there’s been more premiership games in the country. This year, there were games at Mudgee, Tamworth, Bathurst, Gosford, Gladstone, Toowoomba and Cairns. Next season, Penrith play Melbourne at Bathurst’s Carrington Park (round three), Canberra’s aforementioned round eight game in Wagga Wagga (McDonalds Park) and St. George-Illawarra play Newcastle in round 10 at Mudgee’s Glen Willow Oval.

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With the Sydney Football Stadium unavailable until at least 2020, it’s a great opportunity to take more games to the country.

What’s better? Sold out grounds and passionate crowds at Bathurst, Wagga Wagga or Mudgee? Or a depressingly small 10,000 at Homebush (with all those empty seats a bad look on TV)? The QRL’s gone further with Country Week – a full round played in country QLD (Goondiwindi, Maryborough, Bowen, Cooktown, Normanton, Hughenden in 2018). Financial and broadcast realities means that’ll never happen in the NRL, but it’s great to see the QRL giving back to the country.

Ideally, every NRL team should take at least one premiership game to the bush, equalling 16 games a year across country Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand.

While some clubs (and some sponsors more interested in the bottom line) may dread giving up a home game, if they pick the appropriate match, schedule it so there’s a big enough break for the next round and offer fans easy transport to and from the game, it’ll work.

Deputy Sports Editor for the Australian Times Weekly

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