After months of speculation and consultation, the New Zealand Rugby League has officially announced the Kiwis will play England in a Test in the United States for the next three years, starting in Denver in June.
Now the NZRL officials need to convince NRL clubs to release their star players for the match on June 23 Test at Denver’s Mile High Stadium, which has a capacity of 76,000.
Kiwis stalwart Simon Mannering is a fan of the concept and hoped NRL clubs would not stand in the way of players making the trek to the US and back midway through the season. The Test coincides with the bye round in the NRL for the second State of Origin match.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
The NZRL said it would 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”.
NZRL medical director Simon Mayhew has consulted medical experts from Super Rugby to gain insight into dealing with travel, pre- and post-match recovery, and playing at altitude.
International development was the main focus of the deal struck between the NZRL, promoters Moore Sports and England’s Rugby Football League.
NZRL chairman Reon Edwards said the Test was an ideal opportunity to showcase the highest level of rugby league to a new market.
“Rugby league is making impressive strides in the United States and Canada. The North American market has significant participation and commercial potential,” he said.
Getting clubs to release players was something Warriors coach Stephen Kearney said hadn’t yet been discussed between himself and the NZRL
“It’s probably a bit premature for me to make a comment on the game itself. I will reserve my thoughts on that until I able to get more information,” he said.
“There hasn’t been any talk about players being released yet, seeing as it was only confirmed today so I’d rather reserve my comment on that also.”
Last week, Kiwis captain Adam Blair said he was open to growing the game overseas, but suggested the focus should be on player welfare and boosting the game domestically first.
The 2025 Rugby League World Cup was provisionally awarded to North America in 2016, with USA and Canada to co-host.