NRL going back to the bush after season from hell
The NRL will take more matches than ever before to country New South Wales in 2021 as the game ramps up efforts to reinvigorate rugby league in the bush.
Six matches across the season will be taken to regional areas as ARLC chairman Peter V'landys stressed the importance of getting bush footy back on it's feet following years of decline and recent struggles due to bushfires, drought and the COVID pandemic.
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Manly will host Gold Coast in Mudgee in Round 6 in April before the Sea Eagles travel to Bathurst two weeks later to play the Panthers.
Penrith will make another trip over the mountains to play Souths in Dubbo in Round 11 while Canberra are set to take on the Knights in Wagga Wagga in Round 9.
Coffs Harbour will host it's first NRL game when the Sharks play the Titans in Round 12 while the Tigers will once again host a game in Tamworth with the Sharks heading to the country music capital in Round 23.
"One of the main objectives of the commission over the next three years is to reinvigorate country rugby league. It's very important to us," V'landys said.
"We really want to get it back to what it used to be like, where it was part of a country town and everyone looked forward to the group grand final.
"That will take our stars and our game right into the country heartland. There's no better way to inspire young kids to participate than to see their heroes at their home ground.
"We believe this will increase participation at all levels for rugby league in country areas and it's a very important part of our strategy moving forward to reinvigorate country rugby league."
However, country Queensland appears to have been left out in the cold with Sunshine Coast Stadium the only ground outside of Brisbane, Townsville and the Gold Coast confirmed to host matches.
Cronulla will play the Cowboys at Sunshine Coast Stadium in Round 4 while South Sydney will host the Warriors at the same venue in Round 19.
V'landys also confirmed State of Origin would return to it's traditional mid-season slot after underwhelming ratings for this year's post-season series.
While V'landys said October, rather than November, was the ideal time for an end of year series an unwillingness to bite into rugby league's international calendar and underwhelming TV ratings precipitated the move.
"At this point in time, I can say the State of Origin series will go back to it's normal time," V'landys said.
"We trialled it at the end of the season this year and it hasn't been as successful as we thought, but it's served a purpose for this year.
"All the reasons for having it in November has paid off dividends for us, but our ratings weren't as good as they normally are.
"After consultation with the broadcaster, it was believed best to put it back to its original position.
"When I say it didn't work, of the available TV audience it still had more people watching than any other. Even though I say it didn't work, it was still very successful."
V'landys also expressed confidence that a trans-Tasman bubble would be in operation by the start of the 2021 season which would allow the New Zealand Warriors to play matches in Auckland.
Originally published as NRL going back to the bush after season from hell