Talking Rugby League: NRL prove my doubts wrong in Vegas – but Super League should be cautious

THE NRL pulled it off over the weekend, staging a wonderful event in Las Vegas’s Allegiant Stadium for its season-opening double-header.

Since the idea first materialised perhaps a couple of years ago to open the season in Las Vegas, I admit to having had plenty of doubts about the wisdom of doing so.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating and on Saturday night American time (Sunday morning our time) 40,746 spectators turned up to see Manly spring a surprise, winning 28-24 against South Sydney and Sydney Roosters defeat Brisbane Broncos 20-10.

And both games had enough thrilling moments to keep the crowd enthralled.

Most estimates suggested that around half the crowd consisted of Americans seeing a live Rugby League game for the first time, while around 15,000 fans had travelled from Australia and around a quarter of that figure had travelled from the UK.

On the fans forum, one attendee from this country revealed that he had caught the Virgin Atlantic flight from London Heathrow to Las Vegas and he estimated that around 80 per cent of the passengers were Rugby League supporters heading for the game.

And most observers seemed to think that the attendance would have been significantly greater if Las Vegas hadn’t been hit by very strong winds in the period leading up to the game.

But it was good to see that the NRL attendance beat the 38,986 who were at the Allegiant Stadium last August to watch the football game between Barcelona and AC Milan.

Peter V’landys and Andrew Abdo of the NRL both deserve our hearty congratulations and not just for organising this weekend’s game.

The crucial thing is that they are committed to a five-year plan, so who knows what the matches might be, or the attendances for that matter, by 2028.

The only thing that soured the weekend was the allegation made by Brisbane player Ezra Mam that the Roosters’ Spencer Leniu had racially abused him.

The NRL will no doubt follow an established procedure to investigate this allegation and if it is proven it is extremely disappointing that Leniu, who is Samoan, would use derogatory language to an Indigenous opponent.

Unfortunately the allegation gave free rein to some media outlets to trash the whole event.

But as far as the NRL is concerned, its long-term aim has to be to generate American eyeballs wanting to watch its competition, and ideally potential fans who want to risk their dollars by betting on the outcome of NRL matches.

With sports betting having been legalised so recently in many American states, V’landys’ vision is for the game to generate huge profits from the proceeds of gambling, ideally by reaching financial agreements with American online gambling companies.

The NRL is already doing that in Australia but the American market is so much greater.

It will be an interesting few years to see whether that can be achieved.

Can we share in the Vegas glory?

One of the most interested spectators in Las Vegas at the weekend would undoubtedly have been RL Commercial managing director Rhodri Jones, who appeared on last week’s League Express Podcast.

In our discussion with him, Rhodri revealed that he would be very open to the idea of Super League playing a part in the Las Vegas extravaganza in future years, although at this stage it’s difficult to see how that could happen, given that the NRL seems to be committed to running a double-header again at the start of its season next year.

But one obvious alternative would be to make one of the games the World Club Challenge, which would guarantee a large presence of British supporters at the event.

The problem with that would be that from the NRL’s point of view, the World Club Challenge needs to be completed before its season begins.

I suspect that the best solution for Rhodri would be to sit back and observe what happens in relation to the future of the NRL in Las Vegas until a suitable framework can be worked out that would allow for British participation.

Incidentally, if you haven’t yet seen the most recent edition of the League Express Podcast with Rhodri as the special guest, you can view it on YouTube by going to