One concern of Allegiant Stadium is the 1.2m gap between the playing field and the hard surface. Image by Scott Bailey/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Player safety paramount for NRL in tight Vegas stadium

Scott Bailey March 2, 2024

The NRL is confident players will be safe within the tight confines of an NFL stadium as officials prepare to showcase the sport on its grandest ever scale.

Rugby league will have its red-letter day on Saturday (Sunday AEDT), with a crowd of well beyond 40,000 people expected at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

The season-opening double-header will also be broadcast around America on Fox Sports 1, with local media interest in the game growing in recent days.

But things will look a little different when Manly face South Sydney in the first match followed by Sydney Roosters and Brisbane later. 

The smaller size of an NFL field presents a number of hurdles for the NRL, who have already reduced the playing-field size by close to six metres in length and width.

The main challenges centre around the corners of the $2.9 billion stadium, where a wall stands a little over a metre away from the in-goal.

That wall is padded like high-jump mats with additional lining rested upon it on Friday to provide an extra layer of safety for players.

An athletics-track type surface is positioned around 1.2 metres from the sideline, meaning players could end up there when tackled and put into touch.

Astro-turf was laid over it on Friday around the in-goal, while more will be added to allow goal-kickers to take their usual run up for sideline conversions.

But the NRL is adamant the spaces around the corners are not dissimilar to smaller Australian suburban grounds and fields in England, including Old Trafford.

Officials also believe the extra padding arguably makes Allegiant Stadium safer than those given the double protection in the corners.

The ground was given the tick of approval by the four clubs and players’ association in the lead up to the event with all aware of the importance of the match.

Trent Robinson
 Roosters coach Trent Robinson says its vital the game shows its best side in the US. Image by Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS 

“They’re going to be quite tight, but if we want to play on this field we need to play on these dimensions,” Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson said.

“I’m really proud and privileged to be here. The field looks special, it looks ready to go.”

NRL officials have left some references to last month’s Super Bowl on the turf.

The line marking and numbering has been done off NFL stencils, while the remnants of the champions’ Kansas City Chiefs logo  deliberately remain towards the sideline.

“It’s is a real nice tip of the cap to the Super Bowl and to align that with rugby league,” Robinson said. 

“The NFL, they’re proud of their sport, being only American. But it starts to get played in Germany and stuff like that. 

“So why don’t we dream big enough to expand our game as well?”

Robinson said everyone was well aware of the importance of the game for rugby league, with both appearing relatively evenly matched and with genuinely marketable stars on all sides.

“This is the adult Disneyland. You need to perform here and show that we’ve got a real product,” Robinson said.

“We want to put on an amazing spectacle. I really want the whole day to be a festival atmosphere and I want the game to be played in the way that we know it is and to the highest level. 

“And then people say ‘I love that sport and I want to see it again’.”