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National Rugby Championship to play games at suburban Sydney NRL grounds
With the NSW Government encouraging Sydney's National Rugby League clubs to move many of their games to major stadia, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) is to stage 18 matches in its new National Rugby Championship (NRC) at suburban NRL grounds in metropolitan Sydney.
Fixtures in the Buildcorp National Rugby Championship announced last week show that Leichhardt Oval, Brookvale Oval and Parramatta Stadium - spiritual homes of NRL's Wests Tigers, Manly and the Eels - will host multiple fixtures.
With matches 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 Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium and at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast.
ARU Chief Executive Bill Pulver is hopeful of building a "tribal" following among rugby fans with a competition he believes will rival New Zealand's national provincial competition and South Africa's Currie Cup in popularity.
Introducing the NRC, Pulver explained "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 almost $5 million.
But with a naming rights sponsor and Fox Sports among several organisations providing financial backing, Pulver is confident this latest nationwide competition will be a success.
Another key difference from the ARC is that the NRC has the full support of all five Australian Super Rugby franchises.
ARU General Manager of National Teams, Competitions and Rugby Operations Andrew Fagan added "every one of (the Super Rugby franchises has) stated that this is a critical part of their development pathway now.
"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 nine-team competition.
The competition kicks off on 21st August, with Fox Sports to broadcast one match a week.
Earlier this month, the NSW Government reaffirmed plans, first announced in November 2012, to move away from funding suburban sports grounds used by NRL clubs and to direct monies towards three major stadia in Sydney.
17th July 2014 - BUILDCORP GAMES NAMING RIGHTS FOR NEW AUSTRALIAN RUGBY TOURNAMENT
15th July 2014 - NSW GOVERNMENT REAFFIRMS PLANS TO BACK MAJOR STADIA
24th April 2014 - FUNDING BOOST FOR GRASSROOTS RUGBY LEAGUE IN NSW
25th March 2014 - AUSTRALIAN RUGBY UNION TO LAUNCH NATIONAL RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP IN AUGUST
11th December 2013 - NEW NATIONAL RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP TO LAUNCH IN 2014
27th November 2012 - NSW GOVERNMENT TO END FINANCIAL BACKING FOR STADIA IN SYDNEY’S SUBURBS
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