Thursday 5 January 2012

NRL 2012 - Where Should Future NRL All Stars Games Be Held?

By W D Nicolson, January 5, 2012

On February 4, the third annual NRL All Stars match will be held at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast, this time the Indigenous All Stars will take on the NRL All Stars for a trophy named in honour of the late great Arthur Beetson, which means that the venue for the match has remained the same for all three contests since 2010.

Even before the first game was played in 2010, Gold Coast Titans CEO and part of the NRL All Stars game concept brains-trust Michael Searle admitted that the venue may not hold exclusive rights to the contest for long.

"The success of the event may have outgrown our stadium which is disappointing, but you have to look at the broader view," Searle told AAP in February 2010.

Now with the game established as a viable official season opener and a ratings winner on Channel 9, there is scope to seek out new locations for the All Stars Game once the current agreement to play at Skilled Park ends after the 2013 fixture.

While the Gold Coast is just about perfect in terms of mixing climate with leisure for the teams in the week leading up to the game and with the capacity of Skilled Park a solid 27,000, there is no doubt that other cities in Australia and New Zealand could successfully host one-off games in the future.

And that future begins in 2014.

Newcastle's redeveloped AusGrid Stadium looms as the clear favourite to host the 2014 All Stars Game due to its excellent stadium facility, surrounding beaches and the city's passion for the game of Rugby League. The impact a host of star players in the region for a week doing clinics and the like would be gigantic for the game in the city - one that has a football ground around every corner.

In fact given the success of the 2011 October Test when Australia played New Zealand in front of 32,890 fans, AusGrid and Newcastle have put their hands up in a big way for the 2014 fixture.

But where else is viable post-2013 to host the NRL All Stars Game?

Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The Home of Rugby League according to any Queenslander (and in a lot of ways they are not wrong) holds over 50,000 fans and will no doubt host an All Stars Game in the future but its proximity to the Gold Coast probably puts a game there in the 2016-20 range.

Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville
The tropical heat could be a negative but the game is played at night and really there isn't much of a difference in temp in Brisbane or Townsville at night anyway (that statement is not based on any research whatsoever) which means that the city will get an All Stars game sooner rather than later. Given Johnathan Thurston will turn 30 in 2013, Dairy Farmers Stadium may be the ideal choice for the first or second game played away from the Gold Coast, in order to give the star halfback a chance to play the game in front of his home fans.
Could North Queensland's Johnathan Thurston play an All-Stars game at home before he retires?
WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Has undergone a big redevelopment of its own (albeit not a completely successful one as the new grandstand remains a question mark due to wind damage) and is a sensational place to watch football literally on the beach-front. If a game is going to be played near Sydney in the near future - Wollongong will get the nod (but probably after Newcastle).

Eden Park, Auckland
Will have likely hosted three season opening games for the Warriors by the time the 2014 game becomes available and the stadium is an impressive sight after being redeveloped for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. If the game gets moved away from Australia (albeit unlikely in the short term due to the actual concept) then Eden Park is the outstanding choice and the New Zealand public would embrace it fully.

AAMI Park, Melbourne
Fantastic venue but the negative factor is the questionable support that the game may receive in February. That's not to say there are not passionate Rugby League fans in Melbourne but the attraction of an All Stars Game v a State of Origin game is quite different in a non-Rugby League market like Melbourne. On the flip side, an influx of star players could have a lasting impact on the junior development of the game in Victoria. Long term chance.

Canberra Stadium, Canberra
While many may think that Canberra should not be in the equation for this game - they obviously fail to realise how important the game of Rugby League is to the surrounding regional area. And given the in-roads that AFL is making in the region, the arrival of an NRL All Stars game would be a huge boost to a region that has spent the last 15 or so years waiting for Rugby League to become the big ticket in town again in the wake of the Raiders falling out of the elite bracket of teams in the game.

Any Sydney Venue - likely the Sydney Football Stadium or ANZ Stadium
The SFS was long the perfect venue for the now ignored Sevens tournament and is a great ground to watch Rugby League from. The biggest downside is the fact Sydney is the centre of Rugby League as it is during the season and the game may not hold the same standing had it been played elsewhere. But the upside is the SFS could pull 40,000 with the right marketing and if it was played at ANZ - it could crack 50,000.

WACA Ground, Perth or Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
The game needs to keep the frontiers of Rugby League in mind if it ever wants to take the game back to the West and the All Stars game could be the kick-start any new (or relocating) franchise needs around 2017-2020. But if the game has no plans to place a team West (we've been a fan of a team based in Perth and Adelaide coming into the competition in the future with 8 games in Perth and 4 games in Adelaide home split the ideal structure) then the chances of an All Stars game being played at either venue are slim.

Note: Even if the game leaves the Gold Coast in 2014, the game is still likely to be played there (or in Brisbane) every few years thereafter.

Future Schedule for the NRL All Stars Game?
2012 - Gold Coast
2013 - Gold Coast
2014 - Newcastle
2015 - Townsville
2016 - Wollongong
2017 - Gold Coast
2018 - Canberra
2019 - Auckland
2020 - Perth
2021 - Brisbane

Wherever the game is played it needs to retain an element of freshness to survive and moving the game to a new market every year post-2013 should satisfy that requirement.

But no matter where it ends up being played, the original brains-trust deserves to be given a pat on the back for adopting a successful concept from overseas and making the NRL see that value of it - on and off the field. Tickets are still available for the 2012 clash on February 4, so click the picture link below and get along to the game if you can or simply vote for your favourite NRL All Stars.

Where do you think future NRL All Stars Games should be played and why? 

Comment below.

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