In the wake of the NRL‘s announcement of a groundbreaking double-header in Las Vegas to kick off the 2024 regular season, a major condition of playing at the exorbitant $3 billion Allegiant Stadium, venue for the upcoming Super Bowl, has come to light – a considerably scaled-down playing field.
Specifically, players like Latrell Mitchell, James Tedesco, Reece Walsh, and Tom Trbojevic will be stepping onto a pitch that is five metres less in width and four metres shorter than a standard ground.
According to unnamed sources from involved clubs, they have received an in-depth description of the NRL‘s debut in the United States, inclusive of how much less playing space there will be on the field.
The measurements of the Allegiant Stadium will result in a playing field nearly 800 square metres lesser in size compared to staples such as Accor Stadium, Allianz Stadium, Suncorp Stadium, and AAMI Park.
As a result, the distance between the sidelines will be reduced from 68 to 63 metres, with the length from one try line to another now at 96 instead of the standard 100 metres, given that an NFL field measures only 49 metres across.
Although the NRL realised the possibility of certain limitations with the playing field, the clubs have only recently been briefed on the exact constraints in the recent week, allowing them plenty of time for preparation.
There might still be a possibility of enlarging the field before the matches. Ahead of the double-header, NRL officials will conduct ground inspections at Allegiant Stadium and, if player safety can be guaranteed by sufficient padding around the field perimeter, will attempt to expand its dimensions.
Concerning line markings, clubs have been informed by the NRL that necessary adjustments will be made, including potentially having markers spaced at 9.6 metre intervals down the field.
Playing rugby league matches on smaller-than-standard fields is not unheard of. Case in point – the old Olympic Park in Melbourne was one of the smallest venues in the country while last year’s World Cup took place at UK football venues, leading to compact in-goal areas such as those at Old Trafford for the finals.
Taking into consideration that the NFL generally holds rights over any venue for a fortnight past the Super Bowl, the NRL has been granted approval to utilise Allegiant Stadium for its 2024 season openers.
This American foray sets up a showdown between Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs, putting their Hollywood supporters, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, at odds, with the Roosters and Broncos slated to face off in the double-header’s second match on March 2, Las Vegas local time. These matches will reach Australian audiences on March 3.
A five-year plan is in place for the NRL to schedule matches in the US, ensuring all clubs a chance to participate in this American initiative, in a bid to drum up greater interest in the sport as well as capitalise on the rapid rise of legalised sports betting across the country.
Furthermore, the NRL hopes to elevate its presence by organising an ‘Australia Week’ in Las Vegas, replete with events leading up to the rugby league spectacle. Thousands have already registered their interest to be a part of this American sojourn.