Fans Ready To Hit The Road As The NRL Kicks Off

5 March 2015
Read Time: 2.3 mins

Have backpack, will travel. It used to be the mantra of 20-something hippies looking to find themselves, but increasingly it's the ethos of the National Rugby League.

No longer just a mainstay of the Sydney and Brisbane sports markets, more and more the NRL is looking to expand its sphere of influence.

The 2015 campaign may kick off on familiar territory when the Broncos host reigning premiers South Sydney in Brisbane, but the frequent flier miles will come in handy from as early as Round 2.

That's when the Panthers cross the mountains to host the Gold Coast Titans at Bathurst's picturesque Carrington Park, after Penrith signed a five-year deal in 2014 with the Bathurst Regional Council to play one home game a year in the New South Wales country town.

It's not the only regional New South Wales town set to enjoy top-flight rugby league, with the annual City versus Country clash set to take place at McDonald's Park in Wagga Wagga on Sunday, May 3.

 The NRL is branching out beyond its traditional Sydney base.

Western Front

While the fertile plains of New South Wales are no stranger to big hits and chip kicks, it's way out west that the NRL is really looking to make its mark.

The Rabbitohs are a familiar sight at nib Stadium in Perth and having played several games at the revamped venue over the years, the defending champions will look to make the most of the New Zealand Warriors' gruelling 5,000-kilometre journey when the two sides clash there in Round 13.

South Sydney belted the Warriors in the same fixture last season, with Perth proving somewhat of a happy hunting ground for the team from Redfern.

Whether that's enough to encourage another incarnation of a Perth-based side – the Western Reds plied their trade for two seasons in the mid-1990s before going bust – remains to be seen.

But for now the team known as Souths are content to play at least one of their fixtures out west, while their Round 8 'home' fixture against the Canberra Raiders will take place at Barlow Park in Cairns.

Tropical Climes

While the Rabbitohs are firmly entrenched in Western Australia, it's the tropical climes of Darwin that another of the NRL's most popular teams will call home – at least temporarily – until 2017.

After playing their first competitive fixture in Darwin last year, the Parramatta Eels will once again take a home clash to the Top End this season.

This time the Eels will take on local rivals Penrith in a Round 22 grudge match at TIO Stadium, after the Eels downed Canberra in an entertaining Top End encounter last year.

Parramatta's commitment to the Northern Territory extends to Alice Springs, where thanks to their agreement with the Northern Territory Government, the Eels play an annual trial match each year.

Closer To Home

It's not just road trips making NRL headlines in 2015, with some clubs getting back to their original roots.

They may have called the cavernous ANZ Stadium in Homebush home since 2005, but the Canterbury Bulldogs will take two matches back to Belmore as part of their 80th anniversary celebrations.

It will be standing room only at the 12,000-capacity venue when the Dogs take on Melbourne Storm in Round 16, while the Cronulla Sharks will hope to avoid becoming sacrificial lambs when they feature in a blockbuster Sunday afternoon clash at Belmore in Round 20.

The Auckland-based New Zealand Warriors are another side looking to consolidate local support when they host the St George Illawarra Dragons at Westpac Stadium in Wellington in Round 22.

Widespread Support

Long gone are the cloistered old days of the New South Wales Rugby League, with the Rabbitohs recently hammering English champions St Helens in the revamped World Club Challenge, while Game II of this year's State Of Origin series is set to take place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Although eight of the competition's 16 teams are still Sydney-based – nine if you include joint entity St George Illawarra – today the NRL's influence stretches far and wide.

It means clubs are now well-used to travelling in a bid to come up with some competition points. And when it comes to watching the footy, so too are the fans.

Mike Tuckerman

From Europe to Asia and many places in between, there's rarely a town or city I've not enjoyed exploring. When I'm not wandering the streets and discovering new destinations, you can usually find me hanging out with the locals at major sporting events.