ORANGE, Dubbo and Lismore will host three of the NSW Country Eagles’ four home games during the inaugural National Rugby Championship.
Confirming one of the worst-kept secrets in country rugby, NSW Country Eagles general manager James Grant said his side’s spectacle against the Melbourne Rising at Orange’s Wade Park on Saturday, September 20 was sure to be a hit among the region’s strong rugby population.
The move to bring top-flight rugby union to Orange is a huge coup for the code, which is already showing massive interest in the city after the Australian Rugby Union indicated back in May the Wallabies would tour the central west prior to this year’s Bledisloe Cup match in Sydney.
That tour will be in Orange at the beginning of August.
Grant said rugby union, already a stronghold on the Orange sporting landscape, now had the potential to lift to another level.
“It’s great that the ARU is identifying the central west region and its importance to rugby in general,” the former Wallaby said.
“Orange is a strong rugby town, in fact it’s a pretty strong sporting town.
“We’ve got behind NRL and A-League games in the past. Orange is a reasonably-sized regional city, and it’s important we continue to support these events so, in the future, the NRL and A-League look at a place like Orange and see a good level of support from the community.”
The draw was released yesterday and NSW Country Eagles play their first game of the revamped NRC competition against the Greater Sydney Rams at Coogee Oval in Sydney.
That clash is the first of the Eagles’ four scheduled home games.
They travel to Lismore’s Oakes Oval on September 14 to play the Brisbane City, then host the Rising at Wade Park the following week before tackling the Perth Spirit at Caltex Park, Dubbo, on October 18.
Grant said the competition had the benefit of linking top-level rugby with an area largely untapped in terms of localised support.
While the Eagles will draw largely on players from Randwick and Eastern Suburbs rugby union clubs, Grant is endeavouring to ensure the majority of players have some link to country rugby.
“There’s a number of boys playing in Sydney with good strong country roots, and we’re hoping to tap into that,” he said, with Waratahs and Wallabies loose forward Stephen Hoiles one of the certainties to play for NSW Country.
“This also gives the country a chance to link in with a top-end rugby team.
“I think the sport is solid as it is, but what this does is give those players who have the potential to be budding Super 15 players the chance to experience higher level rugby.
“It’s good for the kids to see there is a pathway.”
The NRC competition kicks off on Thursday, August 21.