Auckland welcomes NRL season launch
NRL superstars Greg Inglis and Shaun Johnson on Thursday night launched the 2015 NRL calendar in Auckland, the first time the event had been held outside Australia.
More than 500 NRL dignitaries, including coaches, CEOs, players from every club and even supermodel Heidi Klum were on hand at Auckland's Queens Wharf where NRL CEO Dave Smith welcomed "the best 10 months of sporting entertainment" across Australia and New Zealand.
Just days before this weekend's Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines provides the first NRL action for the year, and on the 20th anniversary of the Warriors joining the competition, Smith said it was fitting the event took place in New Zealand because it is such an important market for the game.
Despite a stunning 2014 season where State of Origin 2 was the most watched television program of the year and the Rabbitohs broke a 43-year premiership drought in one of the closest seasons in memory, Smith said 2015 promised to be even more memorable.
"This is a big game with a big heart and an even bigger spirit, and a heck of a load of talent" he said.
Addressing the crowd, Johnson said he hoped 2015 would be the Warriors' year.
He added he was proud to represent his country and honoured to be invited to launch the 2015 NRL calendar.
Inglis added that the invitation was a "huge honour".
"For me, rugby league is everything. As a young sporting kid growing up in the small town of Bowraville, it gave me the courage to aim big," he said.
"With hard work, team work and belief comes success. Our belief in each other and our pride in representing the great South Sydney club and it's incredible fans and members at last year's grand final is one of the highlights of my career.
"The beauty of our game is it doesn't matter if you're playing NRL, the local comp, or even in the backyard, those same principles apply. By working together, amazing things can happen. Dreams can come true.
"That is why I'm so proud to be here today. Not because I'm Greg Inglis, Rabbitohs captain, but because I've been chosen to represent the millions of players who will wear the jersey of league or touch this year.
"So on behalf of the NRL players, fans, and everyone that will pick up a ball, it gives me great pleasure to officially launch the 2015 NRL season."