Dubbo’s Caltex Park could host an NRL match as early as next year after it was revealed on Monday morning the NRL is set to take as many as five premiership matches to regional areas in 2018.
The scrapping of the City-Country representative fixture from 2018 onwards was a blow for supporters outside metropolitan areas and major regional cities but calls for League Central not to turn their backs on the bush are poised to be answered.
NRL officials are busy compiling the draw for next season and it can be revealed that the fixture list will include four or five first-grade games staged in the country.
There are two already locked away – one in Bathurst’s Carrington Park as part of Penrith's 10-year agreement to play an NRL match a year there, and another in Tamworth. They’ll be in addition to the Sydney Roosters' deal to play one game a season at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford until 2019 as well.
While the other regional venues are yet to be confirmed the likes of Mudgee, Wagga Wagga and Coffs Harbour, which all hosted City-Country games in its final years, are expected to be contenders, as is Dubbo.
A top flight rugby league fixture has not been played at Caltex Park since 2014, when City-Country came to town but the facility has been hailed as one of the best in regional NSW countless times since its redevelopment and would no doubt be in the NRL conversation.
While NRL crowd figures are down this season, fans in regional areas are crying out for a glimpse of elite football, according to Country Rugby League chief Terry Quinn, who said four or five games premiership games a season would more than compensate them for the loss of the once-iconic City-Country.
"I was talking to (NRL chief executive) Todd (Greenberg) when the fixture went and was told that they'd compensate us by playing more games in the country areas," Quinn said.
“If we got three I'd be very happy. If we got five I'd be over the moon.”
The City-Country fixture had become somewhat farcical in its final years, something not lost on Quinn, which is why he is welcoming the NRL's renewed commitment to the bush.
“This would more than compensate us for City-Country,” Quinn said.
"Particularly having competition games out there with the best players turning out.
“I'm sure they'd love to have a player like a Johnathan Thurston or a Latrell Mitchell out to the towns. It would be unbelievable"
This would more than compensate us for City-Country.
It may just be the beginning too, the NSW government on Monday unveiling a $100 million regional sports infrastructure fund aimed at increasing the number of top-class facilities in the country.
Among the priorities of the fund is the upgrading of facilities with a maximum capacity of 10,000 to 20,000 people that are capable of hosting major events under the state government's stadia strategy.
"As more regional grounds and arenas are upgraded it makes it easier for us to take more games to the bush," an NRL spokesman said.