There is a growing belief in rugby league circles that the fourth edition of the NRL Nines will be the last held in Auckland, with a different venue potentially being sought for 2018 and beyond.
If that’s the case, a number of alternatives will be looked at both within Australia and further afield. We take a look at five possible venues and weigh up the positives and negatives of each.
— Radio Sport (@radiosportnz) February 6, 2017
Suncorp Stadium – Brisbane
The safest option if the tournament is relocated. Rugby league works in Brisbane, and the Nines would almost certainly be a success there, at a stadium where many love to play and watch the game.
Pros: Given the appetite for rugby league in Brisbane – and based on evidence from attendance figures from Broncos home games – it would seem highly likely both days of the Nines would sell out at Suncorp with no trouble.
Cons: You aren’t going to be growing the game with a tournament here. Rugby league is already huge in Brisbane, and most of the people attending fan days and the tournament itself are already going to be passionate ‘leagueies’. The modest February crowds for the inaugural Brisbane Rugby Tens wasn’t a great advertisement for the city’s summer footy appetite.
Hong Kong Stadium – Hong Kong
It was Johnathan Thurston who mooted the idea of shifting the tournament to Asia, and from the point of view of growing the NRL and rugby league brand it makes some sense. With rugby union having some success in Hong Kong it presents as an ideal place to start.
Pros: This is a massive market which rugby union has started to make a foothold in. Taking a tournament likes the Nines to Hong Kong would be great for the NRL’s global image and would help the game as a whole. We also know from Hong Kong’s experience hosting rugby sevens tournament since 1976 that the local people love the concept of abbreviated footy, and get right behind the light-hearted atmosphere that accompanies such tournaments. A huge expat population and Hong Kong’s holiday destination status boosts crowds as well.
Cons: The Sevens is so well established here – would footy fans embrace having a new upstart in town? It would be a big ask to expect fans from New Zealand or Australia to travel over for this as well.
Etihad Stadium – Melbourne
Melbourne would likely be right in the mix if the tournament was to move to Australia next year, given it’s a city with stadiums readily equipped to handle a tournament like the Nines. Victoria is a growing rugby league area where the NRL already has some strong relationships.
Pros: Melbourne is the sporting capital of Australia, and they tend to support these types of events well. From a logistical point of view the city is set up well for a two-day tournament like the Nines, and fans would find it easy to get from the stadium to bars, restaurants and CBD accommodation. The stadium has a roof, so weather would be no barrier to attendance numbers.
Cons: Rugby league is basically a foreign concept to a large section of people in AFL-mad Victoria. Despite having their own NRL team since 1998, Melbourne is yet to fully embrace the game and there would be some risk of a low turnout, particularly in what is already a sport-packed couple of months in the city.
Melbourne Bid To Host NRL Nines Tournament https://t.co/JJu7pe2MdB
— Triple M Riverina (@mmmRiverina) January 31, 2017
Forsyth Barr Stadium – Dunedin
One of only two realistic options if the tournament was to move out of Auckland but remain somewhere in New Zealand – and given Wellington’s recent history with the Sevens, Dunedin would have the inside running. A near brand new stadium in a city full of University students who we hear don’t mind a two-day party.
Pros: At the time of the year the Nines is held, Dunedin has a mass influx of the demographic which would embrace two days or rugby league and fun. Like Etihad, the roof on this stadium is a real boasting point for an event which relies on favourable conditions to get a big crowd.
Cons: The problems that exist with an Auckland venue would still be the same in Dunedin. Most ofthe fans would be there to watch the Warriors and a portion of them would have no interest in attending if and when the Kiwi club were eliminated from the competition. Rugby league doesn’t have a big profile in Otago just yet, although that should change with NRL clubs now viewing it as a legitimate venue to play at. The Bulldogs are taking their Round 3 home game against the Warriors to the southern city.
The Sevens Stadium – Dubai
An unlikely option, but given rugby sevens is making ground here it is at least worth a look at. If the Nines ever grows to involve Super League clubs, or others from Europe, Dubai would emerge as a genuine contender given its handy location near the middle of Europe and Australasia in terms of flight times.
Pros: Giving rugby league a presence in this mostly-untapped and highly-lucrative market would be a big deal for the game. There is good infrastructure here and the stadium is purpose-built for this type of game.
Cons: This would be a massive step into the unknown. It’s not clear if a tournament here would be well supported in terms of fans or from an economic/tourism point of view. Dubai is also a long, long way for any fans from Australia or New Zealand, so you would be relying on local and expat support.