Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

More regular tests for Kiwis at home

The Kiwis are coming home, securing at least one test match on New Zealand soil next year. Photo / Photosport
The Kiwis are coming home, securing at least one test match on New Zealand soil next year. Photo / Photosport

The long drought of tests on this side of the Tasman is about to end, and from 2018 the Kiwis will play at least one, and hopefully two or more, games per year on New Zealand soil.

Negotiations won't be concluded until early 2017, but the New Zealand Rugby League are confident of securing home tests against the Kangaroos on an annual or biennual basis, starting in 2018. There are also plans for regular mid-year tests against the Island nations, in the window that will be vacant after the last Anzac test next year.

As first outlined in the Herald on Sunday in March, NZRL CEO Alex Hayton has been negotiating with the NRL to change the schedule, which have over the last decade been centred around matches in Australia. Those discussions have gone well, and Hayton is confident the eventual outcome will deliver more tests in this country.

"There is a commitment to that," said Hayton. "The circumstances of the current broadcast deal have made it difficult to shift matches but with the new deal (which begins in 2018) there is an opportunity.

Ideally we hope to have home and away test matches against Australia most years, and at least one match annually with the Kangaroos. There is genuine interest in that and the NRL also recognise there needs to be games in this country."

Hayton stresses that nothing has been finalised, but there is an understanding that New Zealand will host the Kangaroos in either 2018 or 2019, "ideally 2018".

Over the last 10 years the Kiwis have been a rare sight on these shores. The Kiwis and the Kangaroos have met 27 times since 2006, and only 19 per cent of those matches have been in this country. Since the turn of the decade just three of 15 transtasman matches have been in New Zealand.

Indeed, in the last six years the Kiwis have played only five times on home turf (2010 vs Australia and England; 2012 v Australia ; 2014 vs Samoa, England and Australia). The paucity of matches was best epitomised by Kieran Foran's situation during the 2014 Four Nations; despite being a Kiwi since 2009, he had never experienced a test in New Zealand.

But it's a complicated business. The power of the Australian television networks - and their desire for kick off times that suit their market - has been a pivotal factor over the years, while the gate sharing arrangements mean that hosting a test is much more of a financial risk for the NZRL. But there is a recognition that the Kiwis have to play at home. The players enjoy it, the fans need to see their heroes, the brand gets boosted and commercial leverage can be exploited.

Fingers crossed, with caution, as New Zealand has been burnt before. The 2015 centenary Anzac test was all but confirmed for this country, before being snatched away 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.

- NZ Herald

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