Fans watch the Roosters-Broncos match at Allegiant Stadium.
The NRL is keen to plan soon for 2025 after the first of five annual Las Vegas missions went well. Image by HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS
  • rugby league

NRL enjoys opening-night reviews as 2025 plans start

Scott Bailey March 4, 2024

The NRL have vowed to begin planning for the next Las Vegas venture immediately, after their opening-night show was deemed an enticing success by US media critics.

Opening news websites and papers would have felt like reading the theatre reviews for NRL bosses on Sunday morning.

And the verdict was a resounding victory for rugby league and it’s season-opening NRL double header.

Veteran New York Post NFL journalist Mark Cannizzaro began his column with a simple introduction: “Ok Aussies, I’m hooked.”

Cannizzaro labelled the two games as “brutal” and “fast”, made reference to “bone-rattling hits” and argued that NRL players were tougher and better endurance athletes than any in mainstream American sports.

“For the NRL, this was a dip of the toes into American waters and it presented a strong case for the uninitiated like myself and the many Americans inside Allegiant Stadium and watching it on TV to take further interest,” he wrote.

 The NRL’s “bone-rattling hits” made an impression in Las Vegas. Image by HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS 

Fox News highlighted Reuben Garrick’s Rob Gronkowski-style spike try celebration, while local Las Vegas websites simply ran images of the matches.

Fox Sports national columnist Mark Rogers was also impressed .

“The league’s unique brand of breathless athleticism, ferocious collisions, outrageous feats of skill and raw passion has much in common with American football, once you get your head around the absence of helmets, pads, forward passing and breaks in the action,” Rogers wrote.

Reece Walsh
 Athleticism on display in the NRL double header was noted by American observers. Image by AP PHOTO 

The true marker for the NRL will come when American TV ratings are released later this week, but this was an early win after drawing a crowd of 40,706 that included 14,000 travelling fans from Australia.

“We’ve got a long way to go. It’s still a long journey. It won’t happen overnight,” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said. 

“But we’ve always believed in our sport. We’ve always believed in the entertainment element of our sport. And we think that there’s so much to offer US sports fans. 

“So to get that type of feedback is obviously cool. That’s obviously how we want to market the game going forward here.” 

The NRL must now piece together how their 2025 Vegas expedition looks, with the vast majority of club bosses showing an interest in playing in the event.

Manly and the Sydney Roosters have also shown an interest in returning, however the NRL must decide if they want to rotate teams as they decide who will come next year.

Also up for discussion is how soon a women’s game can be added, after the talent at the NRL combine proved that is a space where the NRL can take great leaps in the USA.

There is also potential of English involvement, particularly at a time when head office is considering making a move to buy the Super League.

 Peter V’Landys and Andrew Abdo will waste no time in planning for the NRL’s 2025 Las Vegas return. Image by HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS 

“We’ll take a rest, get on a plane, get back home debrief, and then start planning straightaway for 2025,” Abdo said. 

“We will use the same criteria that we used to do so this year, which is inviting all the clubs that want to participate. 

“Allowing them to put forward submissions on how they’re going to help us grow the game and why their club should be part of this. 

“And then we’ll look at a range of other criteria. We need to make a decision fairly quickly, so we can give fans and the clubs as much time to prepare as possible.”

The NRL also made moves on the home front on Monday in Australia, with a deal for the 2024 grand final to be played at Sydney’s Accor Stadium finalised.

AAP’s journalist travelled courtesy of the NRL.