NRL WA’s general manager says Perth’s sustained support for one-off rugby league games is a sign the city is ready for a professional side in the national league.
As top-level rugby league action prepares to return to Perth for the NRL Nines this weekend, John Sackson said the league’s continued faith in Perth as a host for high-profile events was a step towards the re-establishment of a West Australian presence in the NRL.
The Nines, a pre-season tournament based around a short-form version of rugby league, will be at HBF Park on Friday and Saturday.
It comes off the back of a sold out State of Origin clash at Optus Stadium in 2019, a 40,000 crowd for an opening round NRL double-header in 2018 and a World Cup back-to-back game in 2017.
Sackson said Perth was the perfect spot to host the Nines, the first time it had been held in Australia, and the city’s proven track record of drawing big crowds to rugby league showpieces showed it was ready for its own team.
“Those events come through spasmodically and when they do come, they’re very well attended and popular,” he said.
“They’re all bricks in the wall leading up to the day where hopefully the NRL commission see fit to give Perth the opportunity of again hosting an NRL team.
“It reflects Perth is very much front and centre in their vision for the future and by bringing more elite events to Perth and helping with the development of the code here; it’s all helping to strengthen the foundations of the code moving forward.”
NRL WA has about 4000 registered players, double its membership base from 10 years ago, and Sackson said events such as the Nines and State of Origin, as well as a steady stream of South Sydney Rabbitohs games at HBF Park over the past decade, were beneficial to local growth.
“Back in the days of the Western Reds, there was over 10,000 registered players and climbing. We have no doubts that if a franchise comes back to Perth, we will see an acceleration in the growth of the participation and engagement with the game,” he said.
Currently, the only Perth team in any national rugby league competition is the West Coast Pirates, who play in New South Wales Rugby League’s under-18 tournament, the SG Ball Cup.
Sackson said the Nines would tie in well with the two upcoming premiership games headed to Perth this season, including the Grand Final replay between the Sydney Roosters and Canberra Raiders.
The Nines will see 16 NRL teams and four women’s teams compete in a round robin and knockout-style competition, playing nine-aside games which run for just 15 minutes on a full-size field.
“It’s fast, designed to entertain, it shows off the skills, the speed, the flare of a lot of the game’s most exciting players and it translates into a very fast and entertaining form of the game, played by some of the game’s best athletes,” Sackson said.
Tickets for both days of the NRL Nines are available online.