THE NRL allegedly left the ACT government in the dark over an opportunity to bid to host the vacant State of Origin game on short notice.
The opening game of the series that is scheduled on June 9 is set to be staged in Townsville after the MCG was ruled out on Monday (May 31) before the Victorian government made an announcement over whether lockdown will remain for another week past this Friday.
NRL boss Andrew Abdo had hinted the territory was in contention to host its first – and only – origin clash between Queensland and New South Wales in 41 years.
“It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to consider another, inverted commas, neutral state,” Abdo said last week, almost inadvertently referencing Canberra.
But that opportunity was unbeknown to the ACT government, who had no contact with the NRL over delivering the game to a neutral venue, which according to Adbo, Canberra Stadium had been leading a pack that included Adelaide Oval and Perth’s Optus Stadium.
“Neither the Chief Minister’s or Minister for Sport and Recreation’s offices are aware of a proposal to host origin at Canberra Stadium,” a government spokesperson said on Friday.
An eleventh-hour request from Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who reportedly had 10 B-double trucks on standby to bring in temporary grandstands to boost Queensland Country Bank Stadium’s capacity by nearly 2000 more seats to 27,327, ensured the state not only earned the nod but two consecutive origin games ahead of Brisbane on June 27.
Both preferred venues in Townsville (25,455) and Canberra (25,011) hold almost identical capacity crowds, but the 43-year difference since they first opened had an influence on the decision between one state-of-the-art stadium and the other ageing contender.
Neutrality that has seen rugby league’s showpiece rotate between other capital cities went out the door quickly after the Queensland government offered an unconfirmed $8 million to the coffers that the NRL would lose from withdrawing Melbourne from its 2021 fixture.
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Ian Meikle, editor