Date: 11/11/17 (Photo Credit NRLPhotos)
The decision to share matches in the Rugby League World Cup 2017 between Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea has been justified by the fans with today’s clash between the Kiwis and Tonga at Waikato Stadium being confirmed as a sell-out.
And tomorrow’s contest between PNG and USA at Oil Search National Football Stadium in Port Moresby will be the third sell-out crowd at the venue during the Cup’s preliminary rounds.
Today’s crowd at Hamilton is the biggest to attend a Rugby League match in New Zealand since the 2014 Four Nations Test in Wellington three years ago (25,183 on 15 November 2014).
And the three biggest Rugby League crowds in New Zealand this year have been for RLWC 2017 matches over successive weekends.
Last Saturday the crowd of 18,156 for the Samoa-Tonga match at Waikato Stadium (Hamilton) exceeded the 17,857 fans who watched New Zealand’s 38-8 defeat of Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium (Auckland) the previous weekend.
With Waikato Stadium boasting a capacity of just under 25,000, the New Zealand-Tonga match is also set to break the previous biggest attendance for the tournament so far of 22,724 for the opening game between Australia and England at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
RLWC2017 Chief Executive Andrew Hill was thrilled with how fans in New Zealand have supported the tournament thus far.
“The RLWC2017 is the first international Rugby League tournament to be played in New Zealand since 2014 and supporters have responded by turning out in good numbers for the games so far,” Hill said.
“Fans in New Zealand will have further opportunities to see the world’s best, with quarter-finals in Wellington and Christchurch next weekend and a semi-final in Auckland the following week.”
The match in Hamilton will determine which team finishes first in Pool B, but regardless of the result New Zealand will play their quarter-final at Wellington Regional Stadium next Saturday and Tonga will play their quarter-final at Christchurch Stadium on the same day.
Hill said the third consecutive sell-out crowd at Oil Search National Football Stadium vindicated the decision to award Papua New Guinea hosting rights for the Kumuls’ pool matches.
“The three matches in Papua New Guinea have been important to the success of the Rugby League World Cup and each game has highlighted the passion the country has for Rugby League,” Hill said.
“The people of Papua New Guinea should be proud to have hosted three world-class events which have showcased their country to the world.”
Interest is expected be high in all matches this weekend as each has a bearing on the make-up of the quarter-finals, including Saturday’s Samoa-Scotland game at Barlow Park in Cairns, which will decide the third-placed team in Pool B.
It is likely that the winner of that match will meet Australia in next Friday’s quarter-final at Darwin Stadium, which will host the first match ever played by the Kangaroos in the Northern Territory.
Television ratings have also been strong for RLWC2017 in Australia, with the Kangaroos-England game on the Seven Network being the most watched Friday night match of the year and drawing the biggest viewing audience for any game this season besides State of Origin and the NRL grand final.
Fiji advanced to the quarter-finals with a 38-10 win over Italy in Canberra last night to complete their pool matches undefeated.
The full schedule of Round 3 pool matches remaining this weekend is (local times):
New Zealand v Tonga at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, NZ (5.10pm)
Samoa v Scotland at Barlow Park, Cairns (4.10pm)
Australia v Lebanon at Sydney Football Stadium (8.10pm)
PNG v USA at Oil Search National Football Stadium, PNG (3pm)
Wales v Ireland at Perth Rectangular Stadium (3.30pm)
England v France at Perth Rectangular Stadium (6pm)