Aussie Rugby League is heading for another big push to be on the airwaves, with another club in consideration to be the next host.
The Jets of Melbourne are in the final stages of securing a permanent home for their first team, and will join the Aussie Football League (AFL) in 2019.
The AFL, in a move seen as a major coup for the sport, is also looking to expand its league into Australia, with clubs including Melbourne Victory and North Melbourne set to be given a permanent franchise.
The Australian Football League announced in February that it had signed a five-year deal to extend the existing three-year agreement with AFL clubs to 2026.
“The AFL is the world’s largest professional football league and is committed to providing an inclusive environment where all its players and fans can enjoy the game of footy,” AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said in a statement.
“This is the first step towards a greater, more integrated and dynamic AFL, with all clubs and stakeholders working together to ensure the future of our game.”
Sydney’s Parramatta Eels are also set to become the first club to play a game at AAMI Park in Sydney’s west, with the game scheduled to start on July 1.
The Eels will play a double-header, featuring their first match against Melbourne City, before playing the A-League’s Gold Coast Titans in the third leg of their A-league double header on August 30.
The Titans are also expected to be awarded a franchise, after the club announced a deal with the Sydney Roosters on Saturday.
In an unprecedented move, NRL chief executive Dave Smith announced in December that the NRL was looking to move to a 24-hour league, allowing games to be played across multiple weekends.
“It’s a fantastic time to be a member of the NRL and to play footy on a 24/7 basis,” said Parramata Eels captain and CEO Andrew Johns.
“We have always said that if we were given a franchise in the NRL, it would be a game-changer for the game, for our players and for our fans.”
The NRL’s decision to move its season to the weekend, which means games can be played at different times, has been welcomed by the game’s governing body.
But the game faces challenges with growing attendance and a shrinking number of clubs.
There are just four clubs in the league currently with 20,000-plus fans a season, while the AFL has a league of just nine teams.
While the AFL and NRL have been linked in recent weeks, Smith said the league was “still working through the details” of a deal.
The AFL and NRL’s relationship was already strained by the NRL’s refusal to play games on Saturday and Sunday after Labor Day, despite the AFL’s own guidelines.
Smith said there was a “real understanding” that the AFL would allow Sunday matches to be moved to the night in 2018, but that there was still work to be done on scheduling.
As the AAW has reported, the NRL would prefer to play the games on Sundays, as they are “easier to manage, more stable and generally more affordable” to the NRL.
It is understood the NRL is confident the NRL will agree to a Saturday night game.
If the NRL were to make an agreement with the AFR, the AFL and AAW would have to agree on the length of the contract, the terms of the deal and the price.
In a statement, Smith stressed that the move would “help the game and the AFL grow”.
“We’ve been very clear in recent years about the need to make it more inclusive, and we’re happy to see the AFL continue to take that direction,” Smith said.
AFL and A-EAG chief executive Mark Evans said the NRL had made the right decision.
He said he was delighted to see rugby league become a bigger part of Australian life and that the AAMI Stadium would provide a massive venue for rugby league.
Evans said there were currently “a number of great rugby league clubs” in Australia, but added that they were “not yet a full-fledged national league”.
Evons said the AAML was looking at expanding to other cities, and said he would be “happy to talk more about the league in the future”.
The ABC’s John Campbell reports from the Azzurra Oval in Melbourne.
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