Australia vs Tonga test in New York could spark turf war

Tonga's Jason Taumalolo earlier this year after their win over Samoa. - Australia will play their first Test of the year against New Zealand on October 13 and are hopeful of meeting Tonga a week later after the King of Tonga personally phoned NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg to help revive the game. Photo credit: Photosport

SYDNEY, 26 JULY 2018 (AAP) – A rugby league turf war could ignite in North America, if the Kangaroos’ proposed test against Tonga is played in New York in October, according to Reni Maitua.

The former Canterbury star is now a welfare officer at the Toronto Wolfpack, the team at the heart of England’s expansion into North America and in line for promotion to the Super League as soon as the start of next year.

Details of a potential maiden test between Tonga and Australia are yet to be locked in, but reports surfaced last week suggesting the 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena in New York was one option to host the fixture alongside with Brisbane, Sydney and New Zealand.

That option would see the test take place on October 20 at the home of Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls, and would come four months after the Denver test between England and New Zealand.

But Maitua said the prospect of the match is just the NRL’s attempt to keep pace with English rugby league expansion in the region ahead of the 2025 World Cup, after England’s Rugby Football League (RFL) claimed a head start.

“I believe it’s the NRL trying to compete with [England’s] Rugby Football League and Super League for expansion in North America,” Maitua told AAP in Toronto.

Maitua believed the NRL is wary of the Wolfpack’s footprint in sports-mad Toronto, regularly nearing capacity crowds at their 9600-seat suburban stadium, despite little exposure to rugby league.

The team will land themselves in the English Super League next year, if they progress through the qualifiers after winning this year’s second-tier championship.

While the Super League may have its claws in Canada, Maitua suggested the US beckons to the NRL.

“There is no benefit for the NRL to bring a game to Toronto, as the RFL and Super League have now got a fairly strong foothold,” he said.

“After the success of the Wolfpack in such a short period, the NRL would be mad not to expose rugby league on this side of the pond [in North America].

“The revenue it could potentially generate would be substantial, if successful.”

The NRL is also considering opening next year’s season in the States, pending agreements with broadcasters and clubs.

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