Next week’s State of Origin series opener will be played in Townsville in a major coup for rugby league in North Queensland.
League bosses met on Monday to discuss moving the game away from the MCG due to Melbourne’s COVID outbreak.
The NRL had considered several options including Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Bankwest Stadium.
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But in the end, Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville was chosen to host game one despite its capacity of only 25,000.
It will mark the first time State of Origin has been played in North Queensland.
It also means the Maroons effectively get two home games this series with game two to be played at Suncorp Stadium.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo concedes they had little choice given the situation in Melbourne.
“This is a historic decision that’s been made by the Commission earlier today,” Abdo said.
“We’re in a pandemic. COVID-19 has forced us to think very carefully about all the decisions we make.
“The priority remains keeping the continuity of the competition running and playing State of Origin and it was important for us to also consider the safety and the risk around both players and the community.
“It’s also a brand new stadium which is a great opportunity for us to play football at a state-of-the-art venue.”
State of Origin will return to Melbourne in 2024 and 2026.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has thanked the NRL for the “unique opportunity.”
“Our prayers have been answered,” the Premier said.
“To bring the game we love to the fans who love it most in their own stadium is truly special.
“If the ‘Queenslander’ chant puts the frighteners into the Blues, just wait till they hear it from North Queensland.”
BREAKING: State of Origin is coming to Townsville 🏉
Game One will be played at @QCBstadium on 9 June – it’s the first ever Origin game held in a regional city.
— Annastacia Palaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP) May 31, 2021
Speaking ahead of the announcement, Queensland and former North Queensland Cowboys coach Paul Green said it would be a good move to play the game in Townsville.
“Given the circumstances we’re in at the moment where it’s short notice I think it’s probably ideal because I imagine it will sell out pretty quickly,” Green said.
“They’ll really embrace the event as a city, they love their footy up there so it will be a great event.”