Origin opener moves to Townville

This year’s opening game in the State of Origin on 9 June will be played in Townsville, after the Australian Rugby League Commission announced it would be switched from Melbourne because of the Covid lockdown currently in operation in the Victorian capital, which could have meant the game being played without a crowd at its originally intended venue, the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The ARL Commission announced the new arrangement on Monday,  after talks with the Victorian and Queensland governments.

It means that Queensland will host the opening two games of this year’s series, given that game two is to be played at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

“We’re operating in a pandemic and our absolute priority is ensuring the continuity of the competition and our major events,’’ said NRL CEO Andrew Abdo.

“Townsville has the lowest risk of a Covid outbreak impacting the game and the least financial fallout of the available venues.

“Townsville is also a new, state-of-the-art venue, with the capabilities to host an event with a global audience like Origin, placing it ahead of alternate regional locations.

“Despite the challenges, Covid has also presented some unique opportunities, and playing Ampol State of Origin in Townsville for the very first time is another one of those occasions.

“The passion North Queenslanders have for our game is something special and we’re really excited to reward the region with an Origin game. I understand some fans will have wanted a neutral venue, but the reality is we are working within a pandemic and we have to make decisions that ensure Origin proceeds as scheduled and with the lowest financial impact on the game.

“I want to thank the Queensland government, in particular Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, for her ongoing support of rugby league. We partnered together to have 130,000 fans at Magic Round and we are looking forward creating a special Origin next Wednesday.”

Abdo thanked the Victorian Government and Visit Victoria for their support of State of Origin and confirmed that it will return to Melbourne in future years.

“We’re very disappointed that we can’t open the series at the MCG,” Abdo said.

“We really wanted to bring a major event to Melbourne after everything Victorians have been through over the last year.

“Public safety is our absolute priority and given the current outbreak, it remains uncertain whether we could host a mass gathering in Melbourne next week.

“We’re excited to confirm that Origin will return to Melbourne in both 2024 and 2026.”