A two-pronged approach to attracting top-flight rugby league games to the bush is likely to result in a match at Dubbo's Apex Oval as soon as next year.
While the state government announced on Wednesday Dubbo MP Dugald Saunders would be heading up the NRL Regional Taskforce, the Daily Liberal can reveal the NSW Rugby League is also working on an initiative to have a number of NRL pre-season trial games regularly played in country areas.
Group 11 president Bob Walsh, who is also on the NSWRL board, stated the pre-season plan is very much in its infancy but the push has the support of NSWRL's chief David Trodden.
Work for an NRL regular season game in Dubbo next year is also gaining momentum, with Saunders taking on the taskforce while both Group 11 officials and NSWRL's Western manager Peter Clarke have met with Dubbo Regional Council in recent weeks.
Saunders had also previously revealed he'd met with South Sydney to discuss the matter.
It remains early days for the initiatives but Walsh said the optimism around both has created a real buzz.
"It's great to see they [state government] have set-up a taskforce and it's good to see Dubbo is high on the agenda," Walsh said.
"Dugald is pushing the one from the government and Dave Trodden is pushing the other so it is good to have people with that much clout supporting it. It's going to happen.
"We're aiming at next year and the NSWRL is looking at a three-year rotation so you could have a trial once every three years."
The NSWRL plan is believed to have no real format locked in at this stage and would need to be signed off by the NRL before anything could move forward but it would ensure matches can be played in regional areas consistently without the high costs involved in hosting NRL matches.
Saunders confirmed it can cost up to $500,000 to host a regular season match and while the state government is now likely to assist any regional area which does land a game, the trials remain a less expansive option.
The trials are also likely to be played in venues which have not hosted NRL matches in recent times, meaning the likes of Bathurst, Mudgee, Tamworth, and Wagga would be unlikely to have one any time soon should the plan come to fruition.
It would open the door for Dubbo, Parkes, and places like Lismore, according to Walsh.
Dubbo hasn't hosted any kind of NRL match since the 2014 City-Country fixture, which attracted just under 10,000 people to Apex Oval.
"Everything is in its infancy at the moment and NRL clubs could say no and end it all but I think [ARLC chairman] Peter V'Landys is pretty supportive of both options."
Saunders had met with V'Landys to discuss the matter.
"I have met several times with ... Peter V'Landys to discuss bringing a game to Dubbo and the regional approach that needs to be taken, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic where so many communities have been starved of football," the Dubbo MP said previously.
"The Deputy Premier worked very closely with the NRL to ensure the return of the competition and we were hoping to see a couple of regional games this year, but with the current health orders it will be extremely difficult to achieve that."
Walsh agreed having a trial or regular season match in Dubbo would be a huge boost during these trying times.