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Man U in Australia

Manchester United connect with their Pacific fans on their pre-season tour.

Manchester United connect with their Pacific fans on their pre-season tour. Picture: AFP

MELBOURNE - While frenzied discussions over the future of Wayne Rooney and possible transfer targets swirled around the Internet, it was business as usual for Manchester United on their lucrative trip to Australia on Wednesday.

Their second match, against an A-League All Star XI captained by Brett Emerton, is already an 84,000 sell-out and testament to the interest the English champions have attracted on their first visit to Australia since 1999.

While the club's motivation for the five-match pre-season tour is clear - get in touch with their fans in the Asia-Pacific and bank a few million dollars - the traffic is not all one way.

Football has long trailed rugby league in New South Wales, Australian Rules in Victoria as well as rugby union nationwide in the pecking order of football codes.

But the arrival of United and Liverpool, who play in Melbourne next week, have helped maintain the profile of the round-ball game at the end of a stellar season for the local A-League and recent success for the national team.

"In terms of media exposure for this kind of thing, the interest has been unprecedented," a Football Federation Australia spokesman added.

"And coming after the Socceroos qualified for the World Cup last month, this is just the icing on the cake."

For the rest of Wednesday in Sydney at least, however, football and United will take second billing behind the third game in the State of Origin rugby league series between New South Wales and Queensland.

The United players will be at the match at the sold-out Olympic Stadium to see if New South Wales can win the interstate bragging rights for the first time since 2005.

That is almost as long as Rooney has been at United and a straw poll of the fans in the Sydney book shop on Wednesday indicated most were resigned to the fact that his spell at the club was coming to a close.

The 27-year-old striker was sent home from the tour with a hamstring injury and is, according to British media reports, "angered and confused" by new manager David Moyes's hint he would not be first choice this season.