Apex Park to host South Sydney from 2021 in boost for region

GAME ON: MP Dugald Saunders, Mayor Ben Shields, Rabbitohs CEO Blake Solly and ex NRL player Joe Williams with Lawson and Spencer Marchant. Photo: Belinda Soole.
GAME ON: MP Dugald Saunders, Mayor Ben Shields, Rabbitohs CEO Blake Solly and ex NRL player Joe Williams with Lawson and Spencer Marchant. Photo: Belinda Soole.

Dubbo will host a first-grade NRL match for the first time in 2021, with South Sydney set to take a home game to the regional NSW city for the next two years.

The Rabbitohs confirmed it would be taking matches to the central western NSW city last Thursday as part of the NRL's return to the bush.

It will mark the first NRL match at Apex Park, with the venue having previously hosted City-Country and midweek competition games in the 1990s.

Souths generally take three matches away from Sydney each year, with the Sunshine Coast and Central Coast their other two regular venues.

The NRL is desperate to take more games to regional venues, with eight originally slated into this year's schedule before COVID-19 stopped most from going ahead.

The official announcement was made last Thursday morning with Member for Dubbo Dugald Saunders, Dubbo Regional Council mayor Ben Shields and Rabbithos CEO Blake Solly all present.

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Mr Saunders, who is also the chairperson for the state's NRL Regional Taskforce, said it was important to get more games back to regional NSW and in the midst of COVID is just what the region needed.

"This is a real opportunity for Dubbo, the central west and the western region to go forward on the back of rugby league, it's tourism, it's economic recovery from COVID and it's a whole new way of approaching sport in this region," he said during the announcement on Thursday.

Ask Group 11 chairman Bob Walsh what he was expecting from the Group 11 in 2020 a year ago and it's unlikely he would have come anywhere close to predicting the truth.

The threat of COVID-19 barrelled down on the competition but things are looking a little brighter with the announcement that a hopefully returning Group 11 season next year will be bolstered by the presence of the two NRL teams.

"It will be a big boost for us, the trial games and the country-city games have all been very well supported," Walsh said.

"It'll be a great boost for Rugby League in Group 11 and the neighbouring towns will all come to support it, to get a great, grass-roots club like Souths and have them so keen and eager to come is great for us here in Group 11."

Walsh also said he was optimistic that the pathways with NSWRL for young and developing players would continue to widen through the region as the competition continues to develop in the coming years.

"We want to spread as much love as we can across the region and give our players in the bush the opportunity to play with the players in the city as much as possible," said Walsh.

Parkes Spacemen president Joe Spicer is excited about the news means for the game in Parkes.

"It gives our boys and girls exposure to the players and the professionalism involved.

"With a number of Parkes juniors in the NRL system, and a number to come, it gives these guys the realistic opportunity to play in front of their friends and family one day; whether that be in Dubbo or hopefully even Parkes one day," said Spicer.

It would be an incredible coup for Pioneer Oval to host even a preseason game one day soon, and despite the need for upgrades to bring Pioneer up to standard, Spicer said the club is taking a keen interest in how it all unfolds in Dubbo.

"We are keeping an eye on the Dubbo progress very closely.

"We'll keep applying (for funding), and hopefully we aren't far off!"

For now though, the Central West can enjoy the perks of having top level rugby league in the area, and soak up all the benefits that come with it.