Friday, June 14, 2024

Warriors coach says no to New Zealand NRL expansion

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Warriors coach Andrew Webster is firmly against the NRL bringing in a second New Zealand franchise any time soon after bid teams emerged from Christchurch.

The popularity of the Warriors – eyeing a season of 14 sellout home games – could see a second New Zealand team fast-tracked into the competition as early as 2026.

The leading bid, spearheaded by ex-NRL boss David Moffett, is the South Island Kea, who are pushing to join the Auckland-based Warriors and play out of Christchurch’s Te Kaha Stadium, which is set to open in April 2026.

Such is the soaring popularity of rugby league that New Zealand Rugby and Sanzaar opted to play the Super Rugby Pacific semifinal between the Hurricanes and Chiefs in Wellington on Saturday afternoon, rather than clash with the Warriors’ home game against Melbourne Storm in Auckland that night.

With a crowd of about 24,000 expected, the Warriors match sold out three weeks ago, while entry to their round-17 home game against the Broncos sold out five weeks earlier.

Super Rugby tournament director Matt Barlow did not concede that the time change was to avoid going head-to-head with the Warriors but he acknowledged fans may wish to watch other sports.

“The finals schedule has some flexibility around time slots, so we looked at all sporting action taking place across the weekend to ensure we’re giving fans the opportunity to enjoy as much sport as possible.”

Webster said the NRL expansion in New Zealand should not be rushed and he did not want to see the Warriors brand diluted.

He admitted some might find his stance “biased”.

He felt there was still work to do to cement the Warriors’ status in a country where rugby traditionally held sway.

“I really do hope that we keep one team in New Zealand for a lot longer, just keep making this product even better,” Webster said on Tuesday.

“There’s certainly no complacency from us as a club, as players, or staff or anyone in the club that we’ve hit where we want to hit, so I’d like us to nail that first before we did that [expand].

“Not to say that it can’t happen one day.

“People would say I’m being biased and that I’m holding back the rest of the country, but I think it doesn’t matter where you are in New Zealand right now, they want to go home and watch the Warriors.

“I think the community, from the top of the country down to the bottom, is behind the Warriors so I don’t know why we need to ruin that.”

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