The four Sydney clubs key to unlocking a $1.6 billion investment in stadiums are set to hold the NRL to ransom with a list of demands they want met before committing to leaving their suburban grounds.
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The NRL finds itself in a precarious position trying to convince eight Sydney-based clubs to commit to 65 games at the network of major venues before the NSW government's April 1 deadline.
The clubs are well aware of the power they now hold and are seeking financial incentives to move matches to the major venues, as well as other guarantees surrounding membership and transportation.
The Dragons, Tigers, Sea Eagles and Sharks are reluctant to walk away from their suburban home grounds and have begun negotiating a deal with the NRL that could see them shift multiple games to either Parramatta, Olympic Park or Moore Park.
The NRL has earmarked the Sydney Roosters, Parramatta, South Sydney and Canterbury for a combined 42 games at the network of major venues, but ARLC chairman John Grant is heading up the operation to convince the remaining clubs to commit to another 23.
Grant has been left to deal with the issue following the departure of former NRL boss Dave Smith. Smith lobbied the NSW government for a new 55,000-seat stadium at Moore Park without consulting the clubs and gaining a commitment to use the venue.
Since Smith's departure, Grant has opened discussions with the clubs and has found the key stakeholders of the game don't want a new stadium at Moore Park and would prefer ANZ Stadium receive the majority of the billion-dollar funding while Allianz Stadium is refurbished.
Smith's approach has now left Grant in a vulnerable position as he tries to please the clubs and gain a commitment to new venues before the NSW government takes the $1.6 billion off the table on April 1.
The NRL is hopeful the Dragons and Tigers will each commit to playing eight games out of the major venues, while Manly and Cronulla will play three to four.
A major stumbling block for the Dragons is the potential buy-out of the club by WIN Television, who are also the naming rights sponsor of the club's Wollongong home ground.
It's understood if the Dragons, who are in debt to the NRL, alienate the south coast could it could jeopardise negotiations with WIN given their strong footprint in the region.
The Wests Tigers are understood to be seeking financial support for a centre of excellence as well as a financial carrot before they consider riling their fans in the inner west and Campbelltown by further reducing their suburban presence.
The Sea Eagles are privately hopeful they will gain funding to upgrade Brookvale Oval, and would require a significant investment in transport from the northern beaches to the CBD if they were to agree to take a minimum of three games across the bridge.
However Manly's primary focus is to ensure the longevity of Brookvale Oval and are committed to playing the vast majority of their games at their traditional home.
The Sharks are in a different position because they own their home ground and remain committed to the Sutherland shire.
The decision to exempt Penrith from the commitment group hasn't gone down well with rival clubs, who don't agree they should be left alone given the government has earmarked a stadium in greater western Sydney in the future.
The NRL held urgent individual meetings with each club this week, but there is a growing fear the infighting and conflicting interests could cost the game "a once in a century" investment, with the Mike Baird government threatening to take the deal off the table if the NRL fails to commit to the quota of matches.