Perth curtain-raiser will begin new era in WA
Rugby league's debut at Perth's new 60,000-capacity stadium will add weight to an expansion bid and Western Australia's ability to poach key NRL events from the Eastern Seaboard, according to players pushing to feature in this year's historic double-header.
Premiers Melbourne Storm will kick off their title defence against Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs on March 10, with the South Sydney Rabbitohs and New Zealand Warriors to renew their recent rivalry in the west in the preceding game.
The NRL is hopeful of attracting a crowd of between 30-40,000 for the landmark fixture at the new ground in the wake of 53,781 fans attending Sunday's one-day international cricket clash between Australia and England, the largest turnout for a sporting event in the WA capital.
Warriors recruit Gerard Beale toured the facility on Monday and says the new stadium could prove the final piece in a Perth expansion proposal, with the city seen by many as the next logical NRL growth area given the demise of Super Rugby outfit Western Force.
"I've always been surprised there hasn't been a team over here for so long, there's definitely the support for it that we've seen in the games they've had here the last few years," Beale told NRL.com.
"The stadium looks really state of the art and a first-class place. I'm on the top level right now looking across the entire stadium and I can picture March 10 with the double-header with the league in town, it's gonna be good."
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has previously spoken of making inroads in the west, which last featured a team in 1997 when the Western Reds were culled in the wake of the Super League war, but has also cautioned that the competition would not expand simply for the sake of it.
Perth is also locked in to host a State of Origin game in 2019 at the new arena, with Bulldogs centre Kerrod Holland likening the $1.6 billion ground to a "Colosseum", not dissimilar to the MCG.
"There is a bit of an MCG feel to it, that large circular ground and the atmosphere looked fantastic, it'll be great to play that round one game here," Holland said.
"It'll be packed and when the big places are like that, they're the best grounds to play on. It's got the Colosseum and MCG feel about it which will be great to experience."
The double-header will feature a number of juicy storylines, with Storm star Billy Slater to line up for his 300th NRL game, Rabbitohs skipper Greg Inglis to return from a season-ending ACL injury and Aaron Woods and Kieran Foran to turn out in Bulldogs colours for the first time.
Souths prop Zane Musgrove, who lived in Perth as a child, believes the new stadium would only create more competition for big-ticket rugby league events.
"It's making a great first impression on me, it'll be fantastic with a big crowd here," Musgrove said.
"It's a really nice stadium and it's a great asset as far as growing the game over here."
March's double-header is expected to smash rugby league's record attendance in Perth, set in 1995 when 24,932 watched the Western Reds' first game in the ARL competition, a 28-16 win over St George.
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