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Newcastle Herald

Newcastle in line to host extra NRL games in 2023

SUPPORT: Knights fans at McDonald Jones Stadium. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Newcastle might have to wait to host a Magic Round but the city could get its own footy feast next season with McDonald Jones Stadium likely to be used for a string of neutral NRL games.

The venue is in line to host relocated matches while multiple stadiums along Australia's east coast are out of action for the FIFA Women's World Cup next year.

The tournament is being held in Australia and New Zealand, and FIFA will have exclusive access to six Australian venues for periods of up to eight weeks.

It means NRL games will not be able to be played at multiple grounds regularly used by a number of clubs.

Accor Stadium at Olympic Park will be out of action between late June and mid-August, while the soon-to-be-opened Allianz Stadium in Sydney will be similarly impacted, as will Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium and Melbourne's AAMI Park.

The Newcastle Herald understands Venues NSW, the NSW government agency that oversees the two Sydney stadiums, has written to the NRL encouraging the use of other grounds, including McDonald Jones Stadium.

The NRL is yet to indicate how it will adapt to the World Cup disruption next year.

One option is alter its draw so NRL clubs which usually play at the impacted stadiums have away games, but that could prove difficult given the length of time they are out of action.

It could also leave it in the clubs' hands to relocate their own matches.

But Knights CEO Phil Gardner believes Newcastle will more than likely host some relocated games.

"I think you will see a lot of fixtures in Newcastle in 2023, and again in 2027, when we have the Rugby World Cup," Gardner told the Herald.

"There will be a lot of grounds that are closed down, particularly next year during that period of time.

"There will be a lot of football next year for Newcastle fans."

KEEN: Newcastle Knights chief executive officer Phil Gardner. Picture: Marina Neil

The Roosters played the Storm in Newcastle last year due to Sydney's COVID outbreak, as did the Rabbitohs against the Cowboys.

The games had capacity limits but drew a few thousand fans. Newcastle was also due to host State of Origin, but the match was pulled due to fears of COVID spreading.

FIFA is yet to list the Hunter as an official training area for the Women's World Cup, but teams are likely to visit.

England officials are understood to have been in Newcastle as recently as last week inspecting facilities.

Gardner said the Knights' $25 million Centre of Excellence would likely be used by Women's World Cup teams.

The Knights CEO hopes Newcastle will eventually host the NRL's Magic Round

The showpiece event, where every game is held at the one venue, has been held in Brisbane on three occasions since its inception in 2019.

Its success has prompted calls for the NRL to take it elsewhere or duplicate it.

"I think there's only really room for one Magic Round, I don't see there being more than one," Gardner said.

"But Newcastle would be a great site for a Magic Round.

"The Queensland government put in somewhere north of $2 million ... and they get a huge amount of it.

"So we'd need the same support from the NSW government to come here."

A second Magic Round would require all 16 teams to give up one home game, whereas currently only eight have to do so.

Clubs are compensated by the NRL, but the Knights are reluctant to give up a game given the strong crowds they usually attract.

The event is unlikely to shift from Brisbane in the short term with Australian Rugby League Commission chair Peter V'landys recently saying the NRL owed "a debt of gratitude" to Queensland government for allowing the competition to proceed in the state during COVID-19.