Eighteen matches in the new National Rugby Championship will be played at the home grounds of NRL clubs.
The Australian Rugby Union is invading enemy territory, with 18 matches in the new National Rugby Championship (NRC) to be played at the spiritual homes of NRL clubs.
The NRC draw was released on Wednesday, with Leichhardt Oval, Brookvale Oval, Pirtek Stadium and AAMI Park – the respective homes of the NRL’s Wests Tigers, Manly, Parramatta and Melbourne – all to host multiple fixtures.
With games pitting Queensland Country against North Harbour and Brisbane City against Canberra to serve as curtain-raisers to two Wallabies Tests, the NRC will also be thrust into the spotlight at Suncorp Stadium and Cbus Super Stadium, the homes of the Broncos and Gold Coast Titans.
ARU chief Bill Pulver is hopeful of building a “tribal” following among rugby fans with a competition he believes will rival New Zealand’s ITM Cup and South Africa’s Currie Cup in popularity.
“If you look in South Africa and New Zealand, their Currie Cup and their ITM Cup are arguably some of the most well supported, from a fan perspective, competitions that they have,” Pulver said.
“There’s good reason for that. They truly are national competitions.
“It will take time to build up a tribal level of support, but we believe it will come.”
The NRC is effectively a reincarnation of the ill-fated Australian Rugby Championship, which lasted just one year in 2007 and cost the ARU some $5 million.
But with Buildcorp jumping on board as naming rights sponsor and Fox Sports, Foxtel, Asics and Gilbert also providing financial backing, Pulver is confident this latest nationwide competition will be a success.
“I can tell you that the Buildcorp NRC will at least break even,” Pulver said.
Another key difference from the ARC is that the NRC has the full support of all five Australian Super Rugby franchises.
“Every one of them stated that this is a critical part of their development pathway now,” said Andrew Fagan, the ARU’s general manager of national teams and competitions and rugby operations.
“One of the problems they had in the past was that a large proportion of their back-end squad weren’t playing a sufficient level of high-quality rugby.
“So this gives them effectively a 12-month program of activity now training and playing.”
The nine-round championship, plus two weeks of finals, will feature all non-Test-playing Super Rugby players plus club players in a 10-team competition.
“I believe we now have a comprehensive development pathway probably for the first time in Australian rugby,” Pulver said.
“And the NRC really was the missing link in elite level of the game to really build a bridge between club rugby and Super Rugby.”
The competition kicks off on August 21, with Fox Sports to broadcast one match a week.