Newcastle looks set to land State of Origin III with ARL commission chairman Peter V’landys saying he wants to reward rugby league fans in the area.
A decision will be made on Friday afternoon on where to play the final game of the Origin series, which is certain to be moved from Stadium Australia in Sydney.
The clash is scheduled for 14 July, just five days after the current Covid-19 lockdown ends in greater Sydney, which would mean the game’s showpiece event would be staged with no crowd.
In Newcastle, crowds are so far capped at 50% capacity, and it ensures at least one match of the three-game series is held in NSW after the first two were played in Queensland.
On Friday morning, V’landys gave the strongest suggestion yet that Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium would host its first Origin match.
“We are realistic, I don’t think we will be able to have it at Stadium Australia,” V’landys told 2GB. “It is only four or five days after the lockdown and there is always a lag between opening everything up and the lockdown, so I would be surprised if Stadium Australia would be allowed to have a crowd.
“We are looking at various options. We would like to keep it in NSW and Newcastle is certainly one of the areas we are looking at. We have had some pretty positive discussions with government and hopefully we will be able to make a decision this afternoon.”
The Origin opener was relocated from Melbourne to the Queensland regional centre of Townsville and that success will be a huge confidence boost for the NRL to take a game to Newcastle.
Melbourne and Queensland are also understood to have made a play for game three but the preferred location would be in NSW to fulfil a contract with the state government, though V’landys did not rule anything out.
“Money talks and we need to maximise our returns,” he said. “We are going through Covid and it puts a strain on our finances. We have a lot of new expenses in order to keep the competition going so anywhere we can get revenue we must look at it and be responsible.
“We have had a variety of other people wishing to have the game – interstate organisations and governments – so we are looking at every option but our aim is to repay the loyalty of our Newcastle fans.
“It is a rugby league heartland and if we can get things ticked off on by the NSW government, I am pretty confident that we will have it at Newcastle. Three in Queensland would be a first but at this stage we want to keep it in NSW.”