NRL draws 5000 to Vegas launch as crowd hopes soar

Scott Bailey |

Latrell Mitchell says the hype around the Las Vegas double-header is similar to an NRL grand final.
Latrell Mitchell says the hype around the Las Vegas double-header is similar to an NRL grand final.

Peter V’landys is daring to dream of a crowd of up to 50,000 at Allegiant Stadium, after downtown Las Vegas was turned into a throng of rugby league fans for the official launch event.

As ticket sales went beyond 40,000 for the match on Thursday (Friday AEDT), 5000 fans converged in downtown Las Vegas to meet with players.

The crowds prompted Latrell Mitchell and other stars to compare the build-up to that of NRL grand final week, with the night far outranking any crowd for non-match-day events in Australia.

“It’s exceeded all expectations. You can have a strategy, but the strategy is only as good as the way it is implemented,” ARL Commission chairman V’landys told AAP.

“This is by far the biggest fan day we’ve ever had. Even with the grand finals, this beats them.

“And all credit to the NRL management and staff who have put all this together. It’s just been unbelievable. 

“It’s very surreal. You can go on and on and on, but what warms me up the most is it’ll be bigger in year two, three, four or five. 

“This is just the start and it’s setting a real benchmark. We just hope it continues at this pace.”

V’landys confirmed to AAP that more than 40,000 tickets had been sold, with the league hopeful the number could still grow.

Peter V'Landys
Peter V’Landys says more than 40,000 tickets have been sold to the Vegas double-header. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

“We might hit 45,000 or 50,000 hopefully, but it will depend on the walk-ups,” he said.

After early blemishes on Wednesday night that included the local announcer referring to the game as rugby, the NRL was given a shot in the arm by the crowd.

Las Vegas TV networks covered the night, while there was a smattering of Americans in attendance in the crowd.

“It’s round one, but it feels like a grand final at the moment,” Mitchell said, adding he wanted to turn Allegiant Stadium into “Trellegiant Stadium”. 

“It’s a great turnout, we appreciate it. This is why we love the game.”

Mitchell was not alone in his summation.

Brisbane captain Adam Reynolds also compared the vibe to a grand-final week where Broncos players were treated as rock stars last year, as did Australian captain James Tedesco. 

NRL fan events in grand final week usually attract closer to the 1000-person mark, and none has matched the atmosphere at Fremont Street on Thursday night.

Up to 15,000 Australians were expected to fly to Las Vegas for the match, with NRL jerseys regularly spotted on the famous Las Vegas strip in recent days.

Nearly 3000 fans have also travelled from England, while others have come from Jamaica and France.

But it is whatever attention the game can get from locals that is likely to be most crucial.

“It’s definitely a unique experience,” Manly and Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans said.

“That’s what the NRL are trying to do, right? Bring this game to America. It’s great to see all of the Australians here. 

“They’re obviously promoting it just as much as we are as players. If we can spark the interest of the Americans, that’s the job done.”