Hands up everybody who thinks Wests Tigers would’ve come back and beaten the Manly Sea Eagles if the game was at ANZ Stadium instead of Leichhardt Oval.
The soulless behemoth of Stadium Australia is listed as one of three of Wests’ home grounds, in addition to lovable local locations such as Campbelltown Stadium and the aforementioned Leichhardt.
This season, they all host four Tigers home games, despite the irony of the sentiment when they play those fixtures at Olympic Stadium.
This is a problem for the NRL. The benefits of stadium deals for the clubs makes financial sense, and the League has instituted a “stadium policy” akin to the AFL, where games are encouraged to be held at boutique venues such as Olympic Park.
However, Todd Greenburg would also like to see more people turning up to the football, as would the teams, which seems to only happen when matches are hosted at suburban grounds.
It’s a no brainer for fans. Most people prefer the atmosphere and simplicity afforded at local grounds, which offer an authentic rugby league experience, as opposed to the more contrived, can-fed footy forced at larger stadiums.
Even better are the reasons to stay away from stadium footy when you consider how easy it is to watch the game on television. Foxtel shows every game live, and the Nine Network has recently secured an extra Saturday game as part of their coverage.
Sillier still looks the stadium policy when, during State of Origin, 7,000 people “flock” to Homebush Stadium to watch the struggling South Sydney Rabbitohs take on the godawful Gold Coast Titans.
As Michael Ennis said during the coverage, why a game like this absolutely could not be held at Redfern Oval, or even on the Sunshine Coast, is a mystery.
Unfortunately, the NRL can’t have its cake and eat it too.
The St George Illawarra Dragons are another team with three “home grounds”: UOW Jubilee Oval in Carlton, WIN Stadium in Wollongong, and ANZ, but seem to manage this balance better than Wests.
They play five games in Carlton, four in Wollongong, two at Stadium Australia and one at the Sydney Cricket Ground against South Sydney for Retro Round. The two Olympic Stadium fixtures are against the Tigers, and bitter rivals the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
With the NSW Government redeveloping Homebush, the news that the League is scaling back its stadium policy would likely not be welcome, and Greenburg is not about to do so anyway.
However, whilst this is the case, the League will continue to be plagued by the embarrassment of stadiums that are barely 10,000 full, when the exact same crowd at a suburban ground would sound double that.
The unequivocal success of the Bulldogs’ “Return to Belmore” the past couple of years has proved the unique value of local grounds that is now almost native only to the NRL.
Perhaps if they’d played more matches at Belmore Sports Ground this year, they’d be enjoying a better record than 7-14.
Wests’ latest triumph at their spiritual home ground is further proof of the magic held by suburban football. It’s authentic, it’s passionate, and it’s right for the NRL, despite the dollar value currently placed on stadium deals.
Perhaps the way for Todd Greenburg to encourage more people through the gate is to increase, not decrease, the number of games at local grounds.