NRC's grassroots connection a focus in 2018

by Montanna Clare

The NRC has added an extra grassroots flavour in its fifth iteration in 2018.

Eight clubs will battle it out throughout September and October across multiple regional and suburban club grounds in both Australia and Fiji.

Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle launched the 2018 season on Tuesday morning and said the NRC's connection with local communities was critical for the competition.

“It is a strategy that we’ve thought long and hard about, because there’s nothing like that community feel,” she said.

“It’s great for the players … some of the boys in the NRC are from those clubs. That gives them a chance to play in front of their home grounds, which I think is important.

“We think that we’ll create some really great buzz inside the rugby community.”

This year's draw has a greater spread of venues with games across Australia, including a host of regional spots, and also in Fiji.

“There are matches being played at local venues right across the country in 2018 and whether you are heading down to your local ground to watch your team or catching it through the live coverage of every match on FOX SPORTS, you are certain to be entertained with the quality of Rugby on offer in the NRC,” Castle said.

The Sydney Rays and NSW Country Eagles will be the only NSW teams in the competition this year and Castle said the lineup of the teams gave fans a more immediate relationship with their local team.

“I think this year we have the mix really right with the more obvious connections,” she said.

“We think that will build the supporter base, because it’s more obvious which team you’d support.”

The Western Force will replace Perth Spirit in the 2018 instalment of the NRC and the WA side is shaping up as a big threat after playing their inaugural World Series Rugby season this year.

“They’ve created some great fans and support, and they definitely have a leg up in the fact that they’ve been playing some consistent rugby,” Castle said.

“You’d expect them to start really strongly in the competition.”

The 2018 season kicks off this Saturday as the Fijian Drua, back for their second year, host the Melbourne Rising in Nausori, Fiji.

2017 NRC Champions Queensland Country will also defend their title in a grand final replay against Canberra Vikings, in Canberra at 5pm, live on FOX SPORTS.

Read the full fixture here.

Every game of the NRC will be covered by FOX SPORTS, with two games each week broadcast live, and the remaining two available to stream online.