REIGNING CHAMPIONS: Greg Inglis (left) and Paul Gallen with the Rugby League World Cup in 2013.
REIGNING CHAMPIONS: Greg Inglis (left) and Paul Gallen with the Rugby League World Cup in 2013. DEAN LEWINS

Cup draw shows league’s axis is shifting

NEXT year’s World Cup scheduling is concrete proof Brisbane has replaced Sydney as Australia’s No.1 rugby league state.

Sydney may have more teams and more rugby league fans but in recent years they have not supported the game the same way as those loyal ones in Brisbane and Queensland.

The 2017 World Cup organising committee said as much this week when it released the official draw spreading 28 matches across Australia, New Zealand and, for the first time, Papua New Guinea, which will host three pool games.

But the big games, a semi-final and the final on December 2, have been allocated to Brisbane’s 52,000-seat Suncorp Stadium, guaranteeing both will pull sell-out crowds.

The writing has been on the wall for some years, with Sydney fans failing to support Test matches.

And last week only 60,000 turned out for the third Origin game at ANZ Stadium to farewell NSW captain Paul Gallen.

By all reports more than 20,000 of those tickets were given away free.

While eight games will be played in Queensland, with matches in Townsville, Cairns and Brisbane, Sydney has just two pool games featuring minnows Lebanon playing Australia and England.

Even Darwin has been allocated a World Cup quarter-final – a slap in the face and a clear message to Sydney fans to lift their game or risk Brisbane staging more big events.

The Queensland Rugby League is already manoeuvring to stage the 2019 and possibly 2020 NRL grand finals at Suncorp Stadium while ANZ Stadium undergoes a $1.6 billion makeover.

And with the backing of the State Government it is also looking into the possibility of bidding to take Origin games off Sydney because of falling crowds.

Other cities, including Melbourne and Perth, and even New Zealand are tipped to join the bidding but Brisbane, with its rich rugby league history, would have to be a hot favourite to win the race.

Last year’s grand final was fought out by two Queensland sides, North Queensland and Brisbane, with the Cowboys winning a heart-stopping contest through a Johnathan Thurston extra-time field goal.

The message is now very clear that unless Sydney fans start supporting games the shift of power to Queensland, where fans can’t get enough rugby league, will continue.