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NRL looks at United States option for World Club Challenge

The World Club Challenge could be played in a neutral country in future seasons as the NRL continues to assess the feasibility of taking a premiership match to the United States.

NRL officials had hoped to open the 2019 season by playing a match in California before the rest of the first round but the financial risk and broadcast issues put paid to the venture for now.

However, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg and chief commercial officer Andrew Abdo told a media briefing before the unveiling of the 2019 draw that they hadn’t given up on the concept and would continue to pursue it without the involvement of promoters.

As a first step, the 2020 World Club Challenge between next season’s NRL and Super League premiers could be played in the US or another neutral venue, such as Singapore or Hong Kong.

While the time difference in the US is an issue for broadcasters, Singapore and Hong Kong are in the same time zone as Perth, which will host a State of Origin fixture next year.

The flying time from Manchester to Singapore or Hong Kong is about 13 hours, compared to about nine hours from Sydney.

However, there is considered to be insufficient time to organise next year’s WCC between Sydney Roosters and Wigan at a neutral venue and the match is set to be played in February in Sydney or England.

"We will continue to look at not just America but other ways we can continue to innovate that has a benefit to our fans locally and abroad so the World Club Challenge, for example, is something we want to think about strategically in terms of where it is played, when it is played and how it is viewed," Abdo said.

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"Taking a premiership game to other parts of Australia and other parts of the world is definitely in our planning but it has to make sense to everyone. It is not responsible just to go and do something as an exhibition, even if it is someone else’s money."

Whether the NRL remains focused on the US or looks to other markets is likely to depend on the fate of the 2025 World Cup, which had been scheduled for North America after a bid by Moore Sports International.

To help promote the code before the 2025 tournament, New Zealand and England agreed to play an annual Test in the United State but are yet to receive their $500,000 fee from Moore Sports International for playing in Denver on June 21.

Attempts to stage last weekend’s Test between the Kangaroos and Tonga in New York and Hawaii fell over when promoters baulked at the cost of playing a game in the US and the NRL was forced to underwrite the match in Auckland.

It is understood the Test broke even but Greenberg said the NRL would rather manage big events, such as an overseas premiership fixture, than rely on promoters.

"We got really close to it in this draw, but in simple terms we couldn’t make the numbers stack up and I wasn’t prepared to fund it and put the game’s money at risk," he said.

NRL Telstra premiership draw 2019

"If we are going to do it we need to have a very strong business plan that makes sure the game is protected financially.

"We have seen what has happened with private promoters trying to take games to the United States.

"We are always prepared to take some risk, just like we did on the weekend with that Tonga game, Everyone told me it wasn’t going to happen, everyone told me it couldn’t happen and the only reason it did happen is because we said we will do it, we will run it, we will underwrite it, we will take the risk and we will make sure it happens."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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