SYDNEY Actor Russell Crowe has helped broker a deal to broadcast Australia's most fiercely contested rugby league series, the State of Origin, to the United States, the National Rugby League (NRL) said on Wednesday.
Oscar winner Crowe, who owns NRL club South Sydney Rabittohs, was instrumental in putting together a deal to show the three-match series between New South Wales and Queensland on Fox Sports, the league said.
The run-up to the State of Origin series, which starts in Brisbane on Wednesday, has consumed Australia's East Coast media for the last two weeks with blanket coverage in newspapers and television.
Rugby league is the most popular winter sport code in New South Wales and Queensland, although it has struggled to gain a foothold outside its Australian and English heartlands.
An extra State of Origin game was played in California in 1987 to try and sell the sport to Americans.
The NRL said the new broadcast deal would also see the NRL Grand Final broadcast in the U.S.
"This new United States agreement significantly adds to the mainstream exposure of two of our biggest events," NRL chief David Gallop told the league's website (www.nrl.com.au).
"It sees more than 40 million homes across the United States now able to experience live the passion and rivalry of the 2011... State of Origin Series and the... Premiership Grand Final."
Queensland have won every series since 2006 with the state's flag subsequently flying over Sydney Bridge as a result of a wager between local government heads.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien)