The NRL is going back to regional locations in 2021 with a record 14 games at 10 non-traditional venues scheduled in the Telstra Premiership draw.
Sadly most planned regional matches last season had to be abandoned due to biosecurity reasons but the Sunshine Coast was able to host Storm games in the second half of the season while the Warriors played their round 16 clash with Newcastle in Tamworth.
Six country NSW towns plus Gosford, Sunshine Coast, Darwin and Perth will host a total of 14 NRL games next year.
The Sharks take a home fixture against the Cowboys to the Sunshine Coast on Easter Saturday in round four at 5.30pm (4.30pm local time) while round five sees both the Bulldogs and Storm return to Perth for the middle Saturday game (3.30pm local time) and the Roosters and Sharks face off at Central Coast Stadium on the Saturday night.
In round six Manly hosts the Titans in Mudgee at 3.00pm on Saturday, in round seven the Eels take the Broncos clash to Darwin's TIO Stadium for the Friday night game (7.25pm kick-off local time) and in round eight Penrith return to Carrington Park in Bathurst for their match against the Sea Eagles which will also have a Saturday 3.00pm kick-off.
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The Raiders play the Knights in Wagga in round nine, again at 3pm on Saturday, while Souths host Penrith at Dubbo in round 11 and the Sharks take the Titans to Coffs Harbour in round 12 with both of those games kicking off at 2pm on Sunday.
Perth's second game also falls in round 12 when the Roosters take their home game against the Raiders out west for the late Saturday game (5.35pm local time).
There are two more games at Gosford in rounds 19 (Manly v Wests Tigers at 5.30pm Saturday) and 22 (Rabbitohs v Titans at 3.00pm Saturday) and one more at the Sunshine Coast in round 19 (Rabbitohs v Warriors at 3.00pm Saturday).
Tamworth hosts a game at the business end of the season with the Wests Tigers and Sharks in round 23 for another early Saturday kick-off.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys said rugby league was in the DNA of regional NSW.
"I made a promise to regional NSW that we would take games back to the bush as soon as the competition returned to normality. The infection rate is now zero so we will deliver on that promise and schedule NRL games in six different towns," he said.
"Nowhere is rugby league stronger than in our regions. This year COVID meant we were only able to take one game to regional NSW, so we will make good on that with six games next year.
"One of the Commission’s major objectives in the next three years is to reinvigorate Country Rugby League. Accordingly there is no better way than to take the game’s stars to country heartland and inspire participation at all levels."
He thanked NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro for his ongoing support of rugby league.
"There’s no stronger supporter in government for our game than the Deputy Premier. Without the efforts of John we would not have been able to play this year. His common sense approach procures major outcomes for NSW,’" he said.
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"John, with his common touch, understands how important taking these matches to the bush are and what it means to these communities."
Mr Barilaro said regional NSW had endured an extremely tough few years with prolonged drought, bushfires and now COVID, and these six regionally based NRL games will bring much-needed stimulus and entertainment to regional areas.
"There’s nothing quite like a game of footy to boost morale and nobody deserves it more than our resilient communities in the regions," he said.
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"Many professional NRL players come from regional towns and I’m sure they, and the entire state of NSW, thank the NRL for making this a reality.
"Sydney might be the home of NRL, but the regions are where it was born."
Dugald Saunders, chair of the NSW Government’s NRL Regional Taskforce, said this was huge news for regional communities across NSW.
"The NRL and the NSW Government have been working closely together to make this happen," he said.
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"This is a win for the regions and we hope to expand this by hosting more regionally based NRL games in the future."
The NRL will partner with multi award-winning industry super fund EISS Super for the NSW regional fixtures in 2021.
EISS Super CEO Alexander Hutchison said the series was "an effective way to demonstrate the commitment we’ve made to support our members and their communities".
"This year, COVID-19 restrictions meant we didn’t get out to regional areas as much as usual so we’re looking forward to getting back out there in 2021 to meet with our members and NRL fans as well."