"Dubbo will host a game next year. That's a guarantee."
Rugby league fans in Dubbo and throughout the bush have reason to cheer after it was confirmed on Monday more matches are heading to regional areas.
Dubbo MP and NRL Regional Taskforce chair Dugald Saunders helped confirm the news, joining ARLC chair Peter V'Landys, Deputy Premier John Barilaro and other dignitaries for the major announcement.
Tamworth will host the New Zealand Warriors-Newcastle Knights match later this month and Saunders described it as the "start of a new way forward for rugby league in regional areas".
"We need to look at opportunities for all regional areas," he said.
"Tamworth on August 29 gets to kick-off the new feeling but from next year there's more and more plans to have premiership and pre-season games in regional areas.
"It's an exciting way forward from here."
Saunders gave his guarantee a regular season match would be played in Dubbo next year and said more announcements about specific dates and teams involved are expected in the coming months.
The taskforce wants four to six "top quality level matches" each year in regional areas and Saunders said Dubbo was an obvious choice for one of those fixtures in 2021.
"It hasn't had a top-flight rugby game for a long time and it does have the capacity in the facility itself at Apex Oval, and we would have to talk to council about how exactly it would work so council will need to be involved at some point," he said.
"But Dubbo is a great venue and it draws in people from the west who have been starved of rugby league for some time.
"It will have a game next year but we have to work out some odds and ends about exactly what that game will be but in my discussions with the NRL it's been the number one priority to get a game to Dubbo."
Dubbo Regional Council recently confirmed it had spoken to a number of NRL clubs in regards to hosting a match at Apex Oval.
The Canterbury Bulldogs and Cronulla Sharks had responded positively while Saunders said "five or six" clubs have shown real interest in playing games at Dubbo or Mudgee during the early conversations.
Council estimated a match at Dubbo could cost $568,000 but Barilaro confirmed on Monday the state government would be willing to help towns and cities financially.
"Sports tourism is so important to regional and rural NSW," the deputy premier said.
"That's why the NSW government is often happy and prepared to financially support bringing teams into the regions because of the actual net benefit to the community.
"You're filling your hotels, restaurants, cafes, pubs and clubs. It brings tourism but more importantly it showcases the regions long-term and that's a bigger benefit."
Clubs, the NRL, the state government and councils need to work together, according to Saunders, in order to make it a fair and sustainable approach.
"Rather than just which council is bidding the most," he said.
Dubbo hasn't hosted any top-flight rugby league since the 2014 City-Country Origin fixture while Bathurst has an ongoing deal with Penrith to have matches played at Carrington Park until at least 2028 and Mudgee has hosted the past three Charity Shield pre-season matches between St George Illawarra and South Sydney.
The annual fixture will be played at Glen Willow again next year and Saunders stated he wants to make sure Mudgee is looked after that and continues to host matches in the future.
Some venues around the state will be better positioned to host pre-season fixtures given their playing surface, lighting, facilities, and other features and Parkes was singled out as one which would be capable of hosting trial games in the future.
Wagga, Queanbeyan, Albury, Bega, Coffs Harbour, and Port Macquarie were other potential venues mentioned by Saunders.
"We want to make sure areas get looked after and the game is moving around our state and supporting people who support it so well," he added.