FORMER NRL coach Anthony Griffin has urged the NRL and broadcasters to work together to bring more games to the bush, highlighting poor attendances for early Friday night games as a chance to spread the gospel in the country.
Griffin, in Wagga to mentor local coaches on Tuesday night, admitted he was taken aback by the prevalence of Australian Rules in the region and said rugby league must do everything possible to win "a real battle against codes".
A crowd of 10,079 packed out Equex Centre for the Canberra-Penrith clash on May 4, only the second NRL game in the city and the first in 21 years.
The Raiders are contracted to play another game in Wagga next season, and have already discussed their eagerness to extend the deal at board level.
The early Friday fixture at 6pm has traditionally drawn poor crowds with Griffin highlighting the round seven clash between Canterbury and North Queensland at ANZ Stadium, which drew just 6711 fans, as an opportunity missed to send another game to the bush.
The NRL has made playing games in the country a higher priority this year, with Bathurst, Mudgee and Tamworth also hosting fixtures.
Griffin was coach of Penrith from 2016 to 2018 and noticed the benefits the club's annual match in Bathurst has, a partnership which will continue until at least 2028.
"Whenever we went to Bathurst it was always a great week, small towns like that don't get to see elite sport very often," Griffin said.
"We'd go out there for a week and work in the schools and do clinics, by the time it got to the end of the week for the game it helps the players understand the grass roots nature of where our game is built."
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart and co-captain Jarrod Croker declared the club is invested in Wagga for the long haul before the Panthers game, and players mingled with youngsters at the Mortimer Shield school competition.
"I think the more the clubs can do (in the country), the better for everyone," Griffin said.
"It looks better on television than playing in front of four or five thousand people in a 30,000 seat stadium in town (Sydney), especially that 6pm Friday game.
"The league and the broadcasters could probably work together to put some of those games in the country, because they're very hard to get to in the city.
"When Canterbury and the Cowboys played there was 6000 there in an 80,000 seat stadium. I think that's an opportunity within the schedule for everyone to work together and maybe take a few of those games out.
"Something that shocked me a little was the amount of AFL in this part of NSW. To see it right here in front of your face when you drive into town, it's a real battle of codes, so the more we can do down here the better.
"I'm from Rockhampton in Queensland. I understand the country areas and if I can help them I'm more than happy to."
Wagga Kangaroos under-12 coach Troy Brose said Griffin's visit was a rare chance to learn tricks of the trade from a top level coach.
"It's just a fantastic initiative from the NRL and Group Nine to get these types of guys down here. If we can get one new drill out of it that freshens up training with the kids, it's a great benefit," he said.
"It's a great benefit and really good to see a different perspective on how these guys with elite experience do things."