Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Plans to expand Anzac contests

Paul Gallen of the Kangaroos is tackled by Lewis Brown of the Kiwis during the International Rugby League Trans Tasman Test match. Photo / Getty Images
Paul Gallen of the Kangaroos is tackled by Lewis Brown of the Kiwis during the International Rugby League Trans Tasman Test match. Photo / Getty Images

The New Zealand Rugby League are hopeful of a regular home-and-away series against the Kangaroos, starting at the end of the 2018 season.

Friday's night 16-0 loss to Australia was the last Anzac test, with the NRL shelving the concept to cut the interruption to club competition.

That leaves questions over what the international schedule will look like, but the NZRL envisage an annual Bledisloe Cup-style series, except in World Cup years, and are confident of getting it across the line.

"We are pushing for a home-and-away series at the end of each year and we are getting pretty close to that," acting NZRL chief executive Alex Hayton said. "Australia are looking at an extended international window after the NRL season and we have received some commitments on that. We will also still play a mid-year test, it just won't be against Australia. It will be with one of the Pacific nations."

It would be a massive boost for the game in this country if the plans come to fruition.

Australia have hosted most transtasman games recently so it would be a fillip for league here to host a game each year. There would be added intrigue with a series rather than a one-off fixture.

It would also bring rare commercial opportunities for the NZRL, who have struggled to generate income.

The Kiwis haven't faced their transtasman rivals in a stand-alone series since the late 1990s, although they have met on multiple occasions within one year under the Tri Nations and Four Nations formats.

But the NZRL's optimism needs to be accompanied with a note of caution, as the NRL have a history of making the right noises and then doing, well, almost nothing.

The 2015 centenary Anzac test was all but confirmed for New Zealand before being yanked away at the last minute with a cursory explanation.

And, during the negotiations of the current broadcasting deal, the NRL "forgot" to include a provision for test matches in New Zealand, claiming their hands were tied because of the commercial arrangements.

But there are signs of hope.

The Australia Rugby League Commission have talked about a greater emphasis on the international game and Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga is a vocal advocate for test football.

The ongoing competitiveness of the Kiwis means additional tests will be money-spinners on both sides of the Tasman.

"It will change from 2018 because we'll have a new broadcast agreement that will change that," ARLC chairman John Grant told the Herald on Sunday earlier this year. "It should be a home-and-away-based series. That's what should happen."

Hayton expects the international calendar will be confirmed in the next six months.

- NZ Herald

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