3 min read

Rugby League Enjoys Rapid Growth in Victoria


In the aftermath of State of Origin Game 2 at the MCG, rugby league is experiencing unprecedented growth in Victoria, faster than any other Australian state.

This trend mirrors a broader shift in Victoria, where rugby league participation grew by 21% last year, according to the National Rugby League (NRL). Despite starting from a low base, the growth rate in Victoria surpasses that of any other state. The NRL currently has nearly 200,000 registered players nationwide, with Victoria contributing around 5,000.

This increase is driven not just by transplants from traditional rugby league heartlands or the Pacific but also by local children inspired by the sport’s media presence.

The popularity of the State of Origin series in Melbourne is a testament to this growth, with over 90,000 fans attending last night’s State of Origin match at the MCG. Melbourne Storm, the city’s only rugby league club competing in the NRL, has also seen a rise in average attendances to 20,421 this season and a membership increase to over 32,000, more than doubling since 2014. Free-to-air NRL viewership on Nine, which owns this publication, is up 9% in Victoria as well.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo emphasised Victoria’s critical role in the sport’s expansion. “Victoria is a key growth area for us, and we are investing heavily in pathways and competitions here,” Abdo said. Programs like TackleReady and variations like Touch Football and OzTag are drawing a diverse group of participants.

The NRL and Melbourne Storm aim to introduce a women’s team (NRLW) in Melbourne, further expanding opportunities for young female players.

The Storm’s initiative to strengthen local pathways includes taking over junior representative teams that compete in New South Wales and plans to field an under-17 girls’ team next year and an under-19 women’s team subsequently. This strategy aims to develop a strong pool of homegrown talent, potentially leading to an NRLW team by 2028.

Tim Glasby, the Storm’s Head of Pathways, underscores the importance of these developments. “There is a significant connection to rugby league in Melbourne, particularly in the outer suburbs where participation is thriving,” Glasby said. Despite the logistical challenges and costs of competing interstate, the investment is already showing results.

Facilities remain a crucial challenge. The recently opened $22 million State Rugby League Centre in Broadmeadows, funded by various stakeholders including the Victorian Government and Hume City Council, represents a significant step forward.

The rapid growth of rugby league in Victoria signifies a broader trend of increasing diversity and interest in sports traditionally dominated by other regions. With strategic investments and continued community engagement, rugby league’s footprint in Victoria is set to expand even further.

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