Australia against Samoa in rugby league's 2022 World Cup final.
Playing Test matches in the USA can only help boost the appeal of rugby league, Mal Meninga says. Image by David Davies/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Kangaroos can boost rugby league in USA: Mal Meninga

Jasper Bruce October 28, 2023

Australia coach Mal Meninga would love to take Test match rugby league to the United States as the NRL continues to explore avenues into the lucrative American sports market.

In March, the NRL will play its first matches for premiership points outside of Oceania when it opens the 2024 season with two games at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Featuring Brisbane versus the Sydney Roosters, and South Sydney against Manly, the fixtures are part of an NRL campaign to sell rugby league to America, and to cash in on the country’s lucrative sports-betting market.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga.
 Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga is keen to grow rugby league in the United States. Image by Mike Egerton/AAP PHOTOS 

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo and Australian Rugby League chairman Peter V’landys have made multiple trips to the USA since news of the fixtures became public early in the 2023 season.

Earlier this week, V’landys was a guest of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at a state dinner hosted at the White House by US President Joe Biden.

The rugby league supremo used the evening to continue spruiking the sport to other diners.

“He’s a great ambassador for our game,” Meninga said of V’landys.

“He’s well connected. It’s important if we’re going to Las Vegas at the beginning of next year to have the president know a little bit about rugby league. 

“That’s got to be an advantage for our great game.”

Meninga suggested another step to selling the sport overseas could be taking Test matches to America, pointing to the interest they could generate among the country’s Pasifika community.

According to official figures, in March 2020 there were 308,000 people of Pacific Islander heritage in California alone.

Roughly 116,000 of those hailed from the traditional rugby league hotbeds of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga.

“I’d love to (play Tests in America),” Meninga said.

“There’s a huge Pacific Island population, particularly in California and the western side of America,” Meninga said. 

“There’s plenty of opportunity for us. 

“You’ve got to have a plan and you’ve got to build it. Hopefully we’d get it on free-to-air over there. 

“We need to expose it more to the people of America, for sure.”

American actor Dwayne Johnson – whose mother is Samoan – sparked widespread interest in rugby league when he filmed a social media video wishing the island nation luck in last year’s World Cup final.

The video had more than 9700 comments and had been forwarded 31,800 times as at October 27.