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Anzac Day fixture, more NRL games: Plans on the table for NZ relaunch

Warriors CEO Cameron George has called for an Anzac Day match to be played in Wellington and rival NRL clubs to shift home games across the Tasman next year in a bid to relaunch the game in New Zealand.

George's comments come as the Warriors prepare to host The Great Big Kiwi Party at Central Coast Stadium, which will feature legendary New Zealand rock band Dragon before culminating with their round 14 match against Melbourne, as a thank you to the local community for supporting the club during the past two seasons.

With the Warriors finally headed home for their August 15 clash with Canterbury, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo is also considering how to repay the club and fans in New Zealand for their sacrifices to ensure the Telstra Premiership continued while borders were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Abdo suggested playing more NRL matches and home-and-away trans-Tasman Test series would not only be a way to reward the Warriors and their supporters but would also align with the ARLC's growth strategy for the game in New Zealand, possibly including a second Kiwi team in the future.

After almost two full years with no matches able to be played in New Zealand, George said the code needed to "orchestrate a massive year there in 2022".

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"This is not just about the Warriors, this is about relaunching the game in a market that is key to the game's future and hasn't had any content for two years," George said.

"We can't just go back to the same old, same old of the Warriors playing 12 home games next year and expect the game to get back to where it was. We need to relaunch the sport in New Zealand and we need to be creative about how we do that."

The Warriors play the Storm in an annual Anzac Day match but the fixture has never been staged in New Zealand.

George said he had proposed the Warriors play on Anzac Day in Wellington and was also in discussions with other NRL clubs about taking a home match to New Zealand next season.

"New Zealand deserve to be a part of the Anzac Day tradition and I want it next year, and I want to play it in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand," George said. "I don't care if we play Melbourne or someone else.

"It would be an amazing experience for the Kiwis to enjoy an Anzac Day game. There is no contract in place for Melbourne to have it so I want the league to facilitate that happening in Wellington next year."

With 52 per cent of NRL players being of Maori or Pacific Island heritage, and 26 per cent born in New Zealand, George said it made sense for rival clubs to play home matches against the Warriors across the Tasman.

NRL clubs have previously enjoyed success taking matches to Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton or Rotorua and George said many were keen to do so again next season but needed to know whether they would be allocated a home match against the Warriors in the 2022 draw.

"Something needs to happen so let's commit to getting the Anzac Day game in New Zealand and let's commit to getting other teams to play in New Zealand next year," George said.

"Every club has a huge Kiwi presence so we would invite everyone to try and take a game to New Zealand.

"I have spoken to other clubs about bringing games here and they have been really helpful and considerate about that, but we need the NRL to help facilitate that [with the draw]."

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Abdo, who earlier this year revealed the long-term vision for a second team in New Zealand, said the NRL was looking at how to help the Warriors and the game across the Tasman.

"New Zealand and our fans in New Zealand are incredibly important to us," Abdo said.

"First of all, our priority is to get the Warriors safely back home. Then obviously relocating them back home and building a wonderful season for them, where they're playing 12 home games at Mt Smart Stadium, is the next goal.

"Beyond that thinking about how we might be able to take more NRL games to New Zealand is always a consideration. It's a consideration from the point of view of New Zealand being a growth market.

"Outside of rewarding fans who haven't seen a lot of NRL for now almost 18 months, it's also an opportunity – and we've seen other clubs embrace this – to play games in different markets and parts of New Zealand.

"We'll play our role in helping to facilitate that. We're looking at a range of different things – double headers [and] playing games in other parts of New Zealand. That remains a work in progress.

"Prior to COVID it was already in our thinking about how we could take more rugby league content to New Zealand.

"A good example of that would be thinking about how we play Test matches more regularly in New Zealand too, developing a home-and-away concept with our trans-Tasman Test matches."

Meanwhile, George said the Warriors had sold more than 15,000 tickets in 24 hours for their home-coming match against the Bulldogs on August 15 at Mt Smart Stadium – an indication of the appetite for league in Auckland.

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The Warriors were initially scheduled to return home next month and had organised a farewell to thank the Central Coast community for their support at Sunday's match against the Storm.

"We thought we would still celebrate our home away from home and invite as many people as we can to the stadium to enjoy a good day out at the footy, and we have married that up with a fantastic entertainment package," George said.

With the support that the team has received during their two years in Gosford, it is likely that Sydney-based clubs will want to host games against the Warriors at Central Coast Stadium in coming seasons.

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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