WA’s two AFL teams, West Coast and Fremantle, might still be fighting over who deserves to host the first AFL game at the brand new Perth Stadium however neither side will take part in the first major sporting event at the venue.
That honour belongs to a sport not even played at the highest level in the state.
The government announced on Monday that the first sporting event at Perth Stadium would be an NRL double-header on Saturday March 10.
Rugby league clubs South Sydney Rabbitohs and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will open the 2018 NRL season against yet-to-be-announced opponents.
WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said he anticipated thousands of people would travel to Perth to watch the two opening-week matches of the premiership season.
“Events like the NRL double-header are important because they bring in visitors and attract national media attention,” he said.
“This is just one more way we can drive visitation to fill planes, get visitors to Perth and fill our hotel rooms.
“Tourism contributed $10 billion to WA’s economy in 2016 and the industry supports 109,000 jobs.
“It is a key pillar of the state government’s plan to diversify the economy, create jobs and develop business opportunities.”
The rugby league blockbuster is expected to attract between 40,000 and 45,000 people, putting up to $2.25 million in the state’s coffers.
Sports Minister Mick Murray said the NRL would continue to grow in popularity in Perth.
“The NRL premiership fixture between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the New Zealand Warriors played at nib Stadium in June 2015 was a sell-out match,” he said.
“The crowd of 20,272 still holds the record for sporting event attendance at the venue since its redevelopment.”
The news will come as a disappointment for the Fremantle Dockers, with the club saying in early August they wanted to open the new 60,000-seat stadium with a Saturday twilight game against a heavyweight Victorian club.
The Dockers had already pitched the idea to the AFL but the Eagles hit back with claims of their own.
West Coast and Fremantle usually alternate when it comes to determining which club plays round one of the season at home.
Under that agreement, it will be the Eagles next year, given the Dockers opened the 2017 season in Perth against Geelong.
Both Fremantle and West Coast said they weren’t keen to open the venue with a Western Derby, meaning only one club is likely to come up trumps in that battle.
The NRL double-header is the last of a trio of blockbuster rugby events coming to WA as part of a sponsorship deal.
nib Stadium will host a Rugby League World Cup double-header on November 12 while Perth Stadium will showcase game two of NRL’s State of Origin series in 2019.
Tickets for the NRL double-header on March 10 are available to Bulldogs and Rabbitohs’ club members from August 29, with tickets on sale to the general public on August 30.
While rugby league will be the first sport played at the stadium, it won’t be the first-ever spectacle the venue hosts.
That honour currently belongs to British musician Ed Sheeran, who plays two shows at the stadium a week earlier on March 2 and 3, the venue’s earliest confirmed event.
– with AAP