NRL channel Mahomes, Gronkowski to win in Las Vegas

Scott Bailey |

The NRL’s first bold ventiry to the US has been hailed as a success by league chiefs.
The NRL’s first bold ventiry to the US has been hailed as a success by league chiefs.

Joey Manu channelled Patrick Mahomes and Reuben Garrick pulled off his best Rob Gronkowski impersonation as 40,706 fans bore witness to the NRL’s historic drive into Las Vegas.

After the most hyped night of regular-season football this century, the NRL declared their maiden Vegas venture a victory.

More than half of the Allegiant Stadium crowd were said by NRL sources to have come from outside Australia and England, in an early mark of success.

And the locals were given high-quality matches to witness, even though some at the back of the Allegiant Stadium press box were left to label the game they witnessed as “barbaric”.

As Manly piled on 36 points against South Sydney, Garrick celebrated with a pre-planned “Gronk spike”, hoping to earn a shout out from the legendary NFL tight end.

Jason Saab leaps high to take a ball.
Both games were a slick exposition of Australian football, in the NRL sense. (AP PHOTO)

The play of the day belonged to Manu, who produced a wild no-look flick pass to put winger Fetalaiga Pauga over in the right wing to help the Roosters to their 20-10 win over Brisbane.

Manu’s move came in a near identical spot to where Kansas City quarterback Mahomes threw the Super Bowl winning pass to Mecole Hardman in overtime a little less than three weeks ago.

“I didn’t realise it was that corner,” Roosters coach Trent Robinson quipped.

“But Joey Manu, he was here to play tonight.

“I love that we can put that skill on show. Joey is one of the guys who can do that and pull it off.”

Wild winds outside the stadium had earlier caused the NRL’s tailgating party to be cancelled, with portaloos toppled over and even spotten being blown down the road.

The start of the opening game was then not shown on Fox Sports 1 in the USA because a college basketball game ran late.

But at least the NRL hopes that hitch actually kept viewers watching on to witness the NRL, with one of the first things seen being Lachlan Ilias running down a flying Jason Saab on the wing.

Souths' players and mascot take to the field.
Despite a grand entry, Souths couldn’t pull a rabbit out of a hat on a magic night in Vegas. (HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS)

TV ratings across the USA, due in coming days, will be the biggest marker of success for the league, who are locked into a five-year deal to return to Las Vegas and want to make an impact on the ground and bring in money through wagering deals.

“It’s been a good day, and it’s a relief to just see it all come to life,” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo told AAP.

“We’ve seen some great football and we’ve got some happy fans, a lot of people that have travelled and had a great time. 

“And importantly, we’ve got some Americans who have come and seen rugby league. And hopefully a huge amount watched on television across America too.”

Crucially, players and clubs also sounded their support of the move.

Garrick labelled the experience as one of the highlights of his career, while Cameron Murray put the atmosphere as only just shy of State of Origin standard.

A shot of the Allegiant Stadium crowd for the Roosters-Manly game.
The NRL said 40,706 fans attended the game, more than half of them not from Australia or the UK. (HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS)

Both winners – Manly and the Roosters – will make claims to return next season, as the NRL weigh up how to best rotate the game’s new showpiece event.

But even Brisbane and the Rabbitohs could see the positives.

“Growing up, our dream is to play NRL,” Murray said.

“That dream is normally contained domestically. To be able to showcase our game across the world, it’s something that we never dreamed of as kids. 

“There were a lot pinch-yourself moments where you look up in the bright lights and you’re halfway across the world, living out a childhood dream in America, the entertainment capital of the world.”