Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk believe Perth is ripe for NRL expansion.
The NRL has been cultivating Western Australia for a number of seasons, drip feeding games to rugby league fans far away from its heartland in NSW and Queensland.
But ahead of the first ever rugby league Test in Perth on Saturday between Australia and New Zealand, Kangaroos stars Thurston and Cronk want to see the NRL move on expansion.
Cronk has helped to spearhead the Melbourne Storm’s emergence as a rugby league bulkhead in AFL-mad Victoria and said the club’s success can be reproduced in Western Australia.
“For us to be a truly national game you need to broaden the horizons and be spread across the country,” Cronk said.
“We need to get more spectators, we need to get more kids playing the game, we need to get more females watching it and the way you do that is you take it to new markets and Perth is at the forefront of that.
“Melbourne had an influx of internationals and Origin games and rugby league’s popularity has increased dramatically in my time there.
“I am sure it can be the same blueprint for Perth.”
Thurston is also keen to see the NRL move to open up new markets.
“Personally I would love to see a team playing out of Perth,” he said.
“The NRL has brought club games to Perth over the last few years and you can see by the crowds at the ground they certainly love their rugby league over here.
“It is a good time for rugby league here with the Test match and Origin coming.
“Hopefully we will see a team here soon.”
The NRL has remained conservative on its expansion policies since the Super League war ended in 1998. The Western Reds, later named the Perth Reds, played in the top flight from 1992 to 1997 and were a casualty of the time.
The new Perth Stadium will host an Origin game in 2019, indicating the game’s governing body continues to see the west as a genuine market.
The West Coast Pirates were formed in 2012 with the intention of joining the NRL but are currently in limbo.
Cronk said he understood that the NRL had to take a measured approach to expanding the competition beyond 16 teams.
“From a purist rugby league point of view I think there should be a team here in Perth but as to how and when that happens is beyond me,” he said.
“I don’t have the metrics and the numbers as to whether it is feasible or not at the moment.
“But as players we have a greater responsibility than just playing the game, we have to help expand the game.”