That this figure will be achievable in 2016 without a reliance on Sydney’s colossal ANZ Stadium, or the Townsville league mecca that is 1300Smiles Stadium, is testament to the growing appeal of the game outside its traditional Sydney and Brisbane strongholds.

Earlier in the week the house-full signs went up at Canberra Stadium as the city scrambled for tickets to the Raiders’ Saturday night blockbuster against the once-high-flying Cronulla Sharks. Canberra Stadium can hold just over 25,000.

The Melbourne Storm, meanwhile, will be expecting a close-to-capacity crowd to be cheering its boys on when the Storm meets the star-studded, defending-premier North Queensland Cowboys also on Saturday night. With Melbourne’s AAMI Park able to fit in just over 30,000 spectators, the NRL can quite rightly expect near-on 50,000 fans to show up at its non-Sydney-and-Brisbane week one finals matches.

Last year 131,794 people attended week one of the NRL’s finals series. Three matches were played in Sydney (at Allianz and ANZ Stadium) and one at Brisbane’s Suncorp.

The 2015 total smashed the game’s 2014 first-week attendance out of the water. In 2014 just 93,532 showed up for week-one finals “hosted” by Manly, Sydney Roosters, North Queensland and Melbourne. That year just two first-week finals drew more than 25,000 fans. That the lowest-drawing week one finals game this year is expected to attract that figure must have the game’s chiefs doing cartwheels in the corridors of Rugby League Central.

This Sunday afternoon’s sudden-death Panthers/Bulldogs elimination final at the SFS should attract at least that figure, which in turn would slightly justify the NRL’s decision to stick to its big-stadium policy and deny the Panthers a play-off at their actual home ground. (Penrith Stadium’s capacity is listed at 22,500, but the league has capped that in the past at 18-20K).

With another big 50,000-plus crowd expected at the Brisbane Broncos’ showdown with neighbours the Gold Coast Titans tonight, a 25K showing for the Panthers/Bulldogs clash should see attendances for the weekend matching last season’s turn-out.

Suncorp Stadium: 52,500
Allianz Stadium: Capacity 45,500
AAMI Park: Capacity 30,050
GIO Stadium: Capacity 25,011

Sydney Roosters vs Melbourne (Allianz): 20,521
Canterbury-Bankstown vs St.George-Illawarra (ANZ): 33,854
Brisbane vs North Queensland (Suncorp): 50,388
Cronulla vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (Allianz): 27,031
TOTAL - 131,794

Manly vs South Sydney (Allianz) 25,733
Sydney Roosters vs Panthers (Allianz) 23,449
North Queensland vs Brisbane (1300Smiles) 25,120
Melbourne vs Canterbury-Bankstown (AAMI) 19,230
TOTAL - 93,532