Wests Tigers To Play A Home Game In

The New Zealand Warriors will play a National Rugby League (NRL) match at Christchurch's Jade Stadium (Lancaster Park) in each of the next three seasons, thanks to Sydney club Wests Tigers.

The Tigers have transferred their next three home matches against the Warriors to Christchurch, hoping to reap the financial benefit on the Warriors' success and strong nationwide support.

Jade Stadium chief executive Dean McKenzie said yesterday he was delighted at the prospect.

"Obviously, one of the big ticket items in New Zealand sport is a Warriors game. We have had pre-season games here before but people only want to watch top quality sport now," McKenzie said.

The Tigers are following the lead of the Canterbury Bulldogs, who have met the Warriors at Wellington's Westpac Stadium for the last three years and been rewarded with two wins and a draw.

This season, the Canberra Raiders switched their home game against the Warriors to Wellington and took a win.

McKenzie said NRL operations manager Graham Annesley would visit Jade Stadium next month but the 2004 draw wont be released until December.

Canterbury Rugby League development manager Jeff Whittaker said big crowds could lead to a bid for an NRL team to be based in Christchurch.

"There are business people in this city who would put money into an NRL club in Christchurch," he said.

Wests Tigers are an amalgamation of Balmain and Western Suburbs, and the agreement was welcomed by former Kiwis and Wests prop Brent Stuart, who is now assistant coach of the Canterbury Bulls.

"They're regarded as real hard grafters out west. They might not have finished too well but they had some good wins this season," said Stuart.

The Tigers have been the biggest spenders for 2004, recruiting Scott Sattler, Ben Reynolds, Shane Elford (Penrith), Nick Graham (Wigan), Brett Hodgson, Pat Richards (Parramatta), Scott Prince (Brisbane), and Todd Payten (Roosters).

Highly rated coach Tim Sheens is also presiding over one of the largest league nurseries in Australia, with strong New Zealand links.

Five Tigers development players are currently playing in the trans-Tasman youth tests, three for the Australian Schoolboys ? including stand-off half Benji Marshall from Whakatane ? and two for the Junior Kiwis