Mid-year Origin, bush footy focus for 2021

Wagga Wagga's McDonald Park is one of six NSW regional venues the NRL will take matches to in 2021.
Wagga Wagga's McDonald Park is one of six NSW regional venues the NRL will take matches to in 2021.

State of Origin will revert to a mid-year contest in 2021 while the NRL will champion country rugby league when next season's draw is released on Thursday.

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys on Wednesday confirmed Origin's end-of-season experiment would be one off, while also announcing games for six regional NSW towns next season.

He also expects the New Zealand Warriors - nomadic during the 2019 season due to COVID-19 - to play home games in Auckland when the season commences next March.

And he has expressed confidence that the NSW government will honour a $800m commitment to upgrade four suburban venues after the money was initially set aside for ANZ Stadium.

This year's Origin series was shifted to November to ensure there were crowds and that clubs had access to their best players for the entirety of a shortened season.

While nearly 50,000 watched Queensland clinch the series at Suncorp Stadium, the event recorded its worst-ever television ratings to make it a straightforward call for V'landys.

"We've trialled it at the end of the season, it hasn't been as successful as we would have thought but it served the purposes for this year," he said.

"Our ratings weren't as good as they normally are in its normal time period; a proper test would have been to run it in October but that also affects our international calendar and we don't want to affect that.

"After consultation with the broadcasters it was best to put it back to its original position."

The attempt to reinvigorate country rugby league will be clear in Thursday's NRL fixture release, with six regional NSW towns to host games next season.

Penrith (Bathurst), Canberra (Wagga Wagga), Wests Tigers (Tamworth), South Sydney (Dubbo), Manly (Mudgee) and Cronulla (Coffs Harbour) will all host games away from their traditional venues in 2021.

They'll come as V'landys seeks a guarantee for state government funding of four regional venues to replace the investment originally set aside for ANZ Stadium.

He said Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium would be considered as a grand final venue if the deal falls through.

"When I was a young boy I wanted to play rugby league on the Wollongong showground because that was my suburban ground," he said.

"We want to get that tribalism back into the sport; having mini Bankwest Stadiums throughout Sydney will generate atmosphere like you've never seen and generate atmosphere for our broadcasters.

"And it's not just for rugby league it's for all the community, it's for other sports like netball and hockey that aspire to play or compete on a suburban ground.

"It's a matter of timing more than anything else, we want it done yesterday, she (NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian) wants to do it in a couple of years."

Australian Associated Press