Cronulla CEO Dino Mezzatesta has called on the NRL to launch a calculated shot at global expansion, sharing a vision for matches to be taken to four separate continents in one weekend.
Global growth is back on the NRL’s agenda after South Sydney pulled out of next year’s proposed round zero contest, which loomed as an option to kick the season off against Manly in the United States.
Almost every club contacted by AAP has since confirmed it would be too short of notice to play the match next February, with Manly still hoping to find an opponent.
But the majority of clubs are keen to be involved in the future, believing 2024 is a better time with more planning and a pre-season not disrupted by a World Cup.
Mezzatesta’s Sharks are one of those clubs interested.
Cronulla had began serious talks with the UAE Business Council about taking an exhibition match to Dubai when they signed Aramex as a major sponsor, before COVID got in the way.
But with borders open and the pandemic clearing, Mezzatesta now believes it is time for a long-term and calculated plan.
Under his vision, four NRL pre-season matches with all big-names playing would be taken around the world in one weekend with games in Dubai, Oceania, Europe and the US.
“I think you’d get more,” Mezzatesta told AAP.
“Rather than just tackling one country and saying that’s done, and there is only two teams involved, it probably makes sense to try and do a multi-faceted weekend and try and do a few nations.
“You would have eight clubs playing in four different countries, and then another eight could be part of something different (back home).
“Because while we talk about the global platform, there is also a massive appetite in the regions (in country Australia).”
The concept would first begin as exhibitions on a yearly basis, before growing into being part of the competition proper with potentially more clubs travelling.
“You have to have a bit of a targeted approach and a long lead in time to plan this thing properly so it does have enormous benefit,” Mezzatesta said.
“It’s about getting a bigger footprint for our game. So you can’t just a one-hit wonder.”
Mezzatesta believes the move would have significant sponsorship advantages, with most clubs already having global brands as partners.
His experience from the Dubai talks also suggests there could be backing for the concept, while there were suggested financial advantages for the NRL around the proposed United States game.
“If South Sydney and Manly got the USA off the ground, it demonstrates that if we put our mind to other regions, anything can happen,” Mezzatesta said.
“PNG would go mad for some sort of event there at the beginning of the year on a regular basis.
“If we have anything to go by from history, the World Club Challenge has always generated a lot of interest in the UK.
“And it would be interesting to go the UAE. They’ve hosted big things, and have built purpose-built stadiums to host tournaments in all codes.
“So why wouldn’t we look at putting rugby league in the forefront as well?”