The State of Origin series opener has been switched to Townsville after the recent Victorian COVID-19 outbreak.
After NRL officials met with the Victorian government on Monday it was decided to relocate the match to Queensland County Bank Stadium.
Melbourne will now host games in 2024 and 2026. NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said relocating to Townsville was the best option for the game.
“We’re operating in a pandemic and our absolute priority is ensuring the continuity of the competition and our major events,” he said.
“Townsville has the lowest risk of a COVID outbreak impacting the game and the least financial fallout of the available venues.
“Townsville is also a new, state of the art venue, with the capabilities to host an event with a global audience like Origin, placing it ahead of alternate regional locations.
“Despite the challenges, COVID has also presented some unique opportunities, and playing Ampol State of Origin in Townsville for the very first time is another one of those occasions. The passion North Queenslanders have for our game is something special and we’re really excited to reward the region with an Origin game.
“I understand some fans will have wanted a neutral venue but the reality is we are working within a pandemic and we have to make decisions that ensure Origin proceeds as scheduled and with the lowest financial impact on the game.”
It will be the first time an Ampol State of Origin fixture won’t be played in an Australian state capital apart from the exhibition match played in California at the end of the 1987 series.
Abdo also thanked the Victorian Government and Visit Victoria for their support.
“We’re very disappointed that we can’t open the series at the MCG. We really wanted to bring a major event to Melbourne after everything Victorians have been through over the last year,’’ he said.
“Public safety is our absolute priority and given the current outbreak, it remains uncertain whether we could host a mass gathering in Melbourne next week.
“We’re excited to confirm that Origin will return to Melbourne in both 2024 and 2026.”
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