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NRL eye world record women’s crowd with Brisbane State of Origin clash

The NRL has set its sights on a world-record crowd for the women’s State of Origin opener after scheduling it for the eve of Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium. The league has expanded the 2024 series to three games while sticking with 10 sides in the NRLW competition.

All three Origin matches will be played as stand-alone fixtures, with Thursday night matches in Newcastle and Townsville for the second and third games. It is the only match in Brisbane on 16 May and that has the potential for a record crowd for a stand-alone women’s rugby league fixture in Australia.

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Last year’s Origin fixture in Townsville drew a crowd of 18,275, the largest ever for a women’s fixture in the game’s history. But with Magic Round a sell-out event each year at the 52,500-seat Suncorp Stadium, the NRL believes there is a real chance of topping last year’s high.

“We’ve seen a growth in live crowds across the women’s competition every year, and I think next year it’s going to be more of the same,” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said. “We’ve seen a huge turnout this year for both women’s State of Origin matches, and I think next year will be even bigger.

“The fans that are travelling now get to see both premiership action and State of Origin action. I’m confident that Suncorp Stadium will be heaving. It always is because it’s a cauldron for State of Origin.”

The women’s State of Origin series wrapping up in the same week as the men’s game two will then allow a four-week gap between representative fixtures and the start of the NRLW on 25 July.

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Newcastle will start their title defence on a Thursday night against the Sydney Roosters at McDonald Jones Stadium, on the same weekend the men’s team have the bye and with the potential for a big crowd.

There will be an increase to 16 NRL-NRLW double-headers this season, with clubs and players backing the idea. Another four NRLW double-headers will be played on top of that.

The NSW Rugby League will move its state championship to the end of the season in line with the NRLW, allowing it to act as a proper reserve grade competition. League bosses will then look to likely expand the NRLW to 12 teams in 2025, in line with current budgeting in the collective bargaining agreement.

In the men’s competition, Cronulla emerged as the biggest winners of the 2024 draw, handed what is theoretically the easiest schedule of all 17 clubs. The NRL announced its 2024 fixtures on Monday, heralding a new era for the game with Manly and South Sydney kicking off in a Las Vegas double-header on 2 March.

Matches will also be played in Christchurch, Bundaberg and Darwin, while the Perth double-header has become a single fixture after the Rabbitohs pulled out. The grand final will be held on 6 October, with the event to again include deciders for both the men’s and women’s competitions.

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Craig Fitzgibbon’s Cronulla only have nine games against 2023’s top-eight teams, the lowest of any club in the draw. They also only play the Warriors twice out of last season’s top four, while facing all of the bottom four from 2023 two times.

In contrast, Melbourne have suffered the toughest run. Craig Bellamy’s perfect round-one record will face its sternest test against Penrith on 8 March. And in what looms as potentially the coach’s last season in charge, the Storm only play one team from outside last season’s bottom nine in the opening eight rounds.

Women’s State of Origin fixtures:

  • Game I: May 16, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

  • Game II: June 6, McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle

  • Game III: June 27, Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville.