Souths Sean Keppie

All four teams competing in the NRL’s 2024 season-opening doubleheader in Las Vegas have now set up shop in the world’s entertainment capital ahead of Saturday night’s games.

The Brisbane Broncos, Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs have relocated their training camps from southern California to join the Manly Sea Eagles, who chose to make the move to Vegas earlier.

The four squads are making their final preparations for the matches, which will be played at Allegiant Stadium, home to the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders.

South Sydney’s Sean Keppie will make his NRL debut in the front row on Saturday night. He says playing in Vegas will be special for him because New Zealand is the only other place he has played outside of Australia.

“Coming to the United States is very new for me and for a lot of us, but we’re taking it obviously as our Round 1 game, so a lot of focus has gone into this and a lot of preparation and it all starts this week,” he says.

And on the NRL’s decision to bring the game to the US for the first time, does he think it’s a big roll of the dice?

“I think it’s awesome,” says Keppie. “It’s one of the most popular games in Australia, and to bring it to the United States, you know, the home of sport, it’s pretty cool, and I hope that the people in the States are going to love it just as much as we do in Australia.”

One of the things the NRL is up against is the lack of knowledge about rugby league among American sports fans, who mostly don’t know the difference between it and rugby union, but Keppie doesn’t see that as a problem.

“If you just watch the game, you’ll see how different it is,” he continues. “Yes, there are similarities like same ball shape, same kind of field size but I think watching it is the best way to learn.”

And Keppie says he thinks the 13-man code can catch on in the States.

“I think so,” he adds. “Like I said, if anyone enjoys it over here as much as we do in Australia, they’re going to love it.”

Rabbitohs second-rower Keaon Koloamatangi says he also thinks rugby league can become part of the American sporting landscape.

“The NRL’s the biggest sport in Australia, and I think this is the best opportunity to hopefully make it worldwide by bringing it to America, the best sports country in the world,” he says. “Hopefully, the fans get on the back of it and love how we play and what we do.”

Saturday’s games in Vegas are the launching pad for what the NRL says is its five-year plan to get a slice of the US sporting market, and Koloamatangi sees that as doable.

“Hopefully straight away,” he adds with a wry smile on his face. “I know they love their basketball and NFL over here, hockey and baseball. They might not get it or understand it at the start, but I feel like it might grow on people.

“It is very physical, and I feel like a lot of people love physical games, and I feel like it’s one that can be something worldwide.”

The winners of Saturday night’s games will each go home with two competition points and according to Koloamatangi, South Sydney is approaching their contest against Manly just as they would any other premiership match.

“We want the two points whether it’s here or back home, so we’re treating this week like it’s another week to get the two points,” he says.

“We’ve had a look around LA and San Diego to get the feel of it and soak up everything before we play. Last week was a good time to switch off from footy and look around, but we are ready to go this week.

“It’s a long season, anything can happen, and you’ve got to have a bit of luck coming your way regarding injuries and everything, but you’ve got to start hard in the comp, and you don’t want to be chasing your tail at the back end of it, so yeah, we came here to get the two points.”

The NRL has scheduled the four teams to play within their group again in Round 2 rather than being matched up with teams that haven’t travelled overseas, so the Broncos will host the Rabbitohs, and the Roosters will square off against the Sea Eagles in the next round.

This Saturday night’s games will be televised in the US on FOX Sports 1.

Brian is a strong and effective communicator with more than 30 years’ experience in broadcast and electronic media. He has been writing for Rugby League Planet since 2012 and is frequently the first reporter to break news stories about the sport. He has been our North American correspondent reporting on news in the US, Canada and Jamaica covering everything from league standings to strategy analysis to breaking news on key trades to editorials and colourful features on athletes. He is now writing about rugby league on a broader scale to cover developments around the globe. An accomplished storyteller, Brian started his career in Australian radio, before moving to the United States. He is an experienced podcast host and producer and is also a successful TV commentator having done play-by-play and analysis for ESPN, FOX Sports and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) among others. Brian has his own YouTube channel @brianlowe5567 where he posts his interviews for Rugby League Planet. Be sure to check it out and subscribe.