The Kiwis will play a ground-breaking Test match on 23 June against England in Denver, Colorado, the first time the countries currently ranked two and three in world Rugby League have met in the United States.
Chair of the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) Reon Edwards said the Test is an important step for the code’s international development.
“Rugby League is making impressive strides in the United States and Canada. This Test match is an opportunity to showcase the highest level of our sport in the North American market, which has significant participation and commercial potential. NZRL has worked with the Rugby Football League and the Rugby League International Federation on this, agreeing to play a New Zealand-England Test in the United States each year for the next three years,” he said.
Denver’s storied Mile High Stadium, which has a capacity of 76,000 and is home of 2016 NFL Super Bowl Champions the Denver Broncos, will host the historic June Test match.
Kiwis stalwart Simon Mannering said: “I think it’s a great concept and one I wish was around five years ago when I was a bit younger. Growing our game internationally has to be a priority – think of the opportunities we could create for our game if it was a genuine international sport played all over the world.
“I know it’ll be tough for some NRL clubs to see the importance at first, but if we really care about the game, then I think it’s something we have to support. I definitely will.”
Another notable Test for the Kiwis will be Australia coming to New Zealand for the first time since 2014. From this year the ANZAC fixture will move to the end of the season, and alternate annually between Australia and New Zealand. A rematch of the Rugby League Women’s World Cup final between the Kiwi Ferns and the Jillaroos will feature on the ANZAC Test programme, together with the Junior Kiwis taking on the Junior Kangaroos. This is part of NZRL’s commitment to staging more games in New Zealand.
The three-Test series in England announced late 2017 will be followed by a one-off Test in France.
Recent Rugby League developments in North America include the Toronto Wolfpack, Canada’s first professional Rugby League team, winning the Rugby Football League’s third tier Kingstone Press League 1 title, gaining promotion in their inaugural season in 2017, and making a successful start to the 2018 in the Rugby League Championship. Success at that level will secure promotion to Europe’s top tier Super League. Several other North American clubs are contemplating similar moves.
In 2016 the 2025 Rugby League World Cup was provisionally awarded to North America, with the United States and Canada to co-host.
Kiwis’ 2018 Test Programme
Saturday 23 June 2018; Kiwis v England; Denver, Colorado, USA
Saturday 13 October 2018; Kiwis v Australia; Auckland, NZ
Saturday 27 October 2018; England v Kiwis; Hull, England
Saturday 3 November 2018; England v Kiwis; Liverpool, England
Sunday 11 November 2018; England v Kiwis; Leeds, England
Saturday 17 November 2018; France v Kiwis; venue TBC
- Why are you playing this game?
The NRL season has been restructured to minimise the impact of State of Origin on competition. By mutual agreement between the ARLC, NZRL and NRL, the ANZAC Test has been moved to the end of the season. Due to playing a stand-alone Origin weekend, the number of split rounds has been reduced from 6 to 2 rounds, meaning the season doesn’t lose impetus during Origin.
The RLIF has approved the Origin weekend as an international window but Australia won’t participate because of Origin. The Pacific Test series remains to be played during the Origin weekend.
This created the opportunity for England and New Zealand to look at an alternative fixture. Moore Sports International approached both countries with a North America proposal.
NOTE: Moore Sports International (MSI) is one of Australia’s leading Sports Agencies with offices in Sydney, New York and now Hong Kong. Established in 2000, MSI has evolved from commercial rights agents selling to venues and sporting associations throughout Australia, to a sports marketing and major sports event management company instrumental in the success of the Major League Baseball Opening Series in Sydney 2014.
- Will the NRL clubs release the players?
NZRL will work closely with all NRL/Super League high performance and medical staff to explain the measures that will be undertaken to ensure player professional preparation and personal wellbeing, from assembly until their return. This is something new and exciting to rugby league although it has been a part of Super 15 rugby since 1996.
- What are the key challenges for such a trip and how are you addressing them?
Travel, altitude, pre and post-match recovery, and player wellbeing.
Under the direction of NZRL Medical Director Simon Mayhew, we have brought some medical experts together to work through practices and protocols designed to address these matters. We also have input available from Super 15 high performance and medical staff, and will work closely with the Rugby League Players Association and NRL Wellbeing & Workload Committee, including their medical experts.
- Why play in North America?
Denver is well positioned from a television broadcast perspective for both east and west coasts in North America, as well as into NZ and England.
North America has been identified by the RLIF as a strategic growth market from a participation and commercial basis. There is already significant interest in collision sports and this presents an opportunity for former college football athletes and from other sports.
There is a move to establish a professional competition which will be an attraction for NRL players as an alternative to Super League.The NRL has been investigating taking regular season games to North America and Asia.
The 2025 Rugby League World Cup has been provisionally awarded to North America, with the United States and Canada to co-host. Playing regular, meaningful fixtures in North America will help promote the game & generate long-term interest.
Toronto Wolfpack won promotion in its inaugural 2017 season to the Championship, one below Super League. Toronto averaged 7,000 spectators for its home games showing the public interest in rugby league.
- What time is the game?
The match will be played on Saturday 23 June. Denver is four hours ahead of New Zealand but a day behind. The game will be at 2.00pm Denver time, so 10.00am NZT on Sunday 24 June into New Zealand. This will lead into the State of Origin fixture that evening.
- What will you do if players aren’t released?
NZRL will work closely with NRL/Super League high performance and medical staff to understand the reasons.
Injured players will be assessed as to their fitness to travel and play. We cannot easily call a replacement player into Denver if required, nor take the chance on a player recovering in time. There has always been some give-and-take around team selections for the mid-year ANZAC Test between NZRL and the NRL clubs.
- Will the Tongan players come back into consideration?
The Tongan players remain eligible for selection under the current RLIF eligibility criteria. The new selectors’ panel and head coach will make a recommendation to the NZRL Board for its approval as to selection policies.