NRL in Vegas was such a hit, my American mate wants a Canberra Raiders jersey


My American mate wants a Canberra Raiders jersey.

If someone had told me a couple of months ago that I’d have friends in the small American town I live in asking me about how they could get their hands on a Raiders jersey, about how the Penrith Panthers were able to create a dynasty with a father-son coach duo – “dude how is that even legal” – or telling me about how electric they found Tom Trbojevic and James Tedesco to be I would have called you insane.

And yet, here we are. I have even seen the stupid Russell Crowe NRL promotion that I laughed at be reposted on social media by kids who would’ve told you that Lindsay Collins sounded like the name of a popstar just a few months ago.

Putting on a show in Las Vegas! ???????? ????#NRLVegas

— NRL (@NRL) March 3, 2024

To be quite honest, I expected NRL Las Vegas to be a complete failure. America is over-saturated with professional sport, and I just could not see anyone I knew dropping basketball, American football, ice hockey, baseball, soccer, or whatever other sport had come to their attention in favour of a foreign game.

My presumption was that the game would be played, be watched by some Australians living in America, and that would be that. Luckily, that was not the case. The viewing numbers have been published, but I think my anecdotal evidence is just as strong.

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The simple fact that I, on a regular basis, see friends of mine watching NRL highlights is evidence enough that NRL Las Vegas has brought at least some people to the game.

Now, it is time for rugby league to make plans to capitalise on this early success. The first thing the NRL has to do here is build a grassroots structure. If they build it, players will come but right now there is simply nowhere to play.

Jacob Gagai scores a try at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Again, from anecdotal evidence, there is only one team within a reasonable distance for me and they make absolutely no effort to reach out and recruit, and also have no junior sides.

That being said, the first thing the NRL had to do was prove there was an appetite for league in the US, and while that is not 100 per cent confirmed, there is definitely reason to be confident.

Continuing the NRL Las Vegas will do wonders, but I also think holding NRL nines tournaments or international tests could do wonders, especially on the West Coast which has a decent Pasifika population.

From there, I think an intriguing idea could be to try and make a break into the collegiate athletic scene in America, where rugby union has had great success. Kids in university are willing to try new sports to find communities, and if rugby league can give them that, I can guarantee they will come. I know plenty of kids who have never touched a rugby ball in their lives who become fanatics in university. There is no reason the same cannot be done with league.

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