Rugby League

COMMENT

Enough of the politics, Premier Mike Baird - build a new stadium at Moore Park right now

The media release from the office of NSW Premier Mike Baird on September 4 last year could not have been any clearer about the future of Sydney's sporting landscape.

Announcing more than $1 billion would be invested in the "stadia network" over the next decade, the Premier said: "A global city like Sydney needs world-class sporting venues and this investment will ensure fans and sporting teams have the facilities they deserve."

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Amen, Premier. Amen.

He then added a new rectangular stadium would be built at Parramatta but the jewel in the crown was a "new rectangular stadium at Moore Park with 50,000 to 55,000 seats".

Allianz Stadium.
Allianz Stadium. Photo: Brendon Thorne

ANZ Stadium would be refurbished, and that may include a retractable roof. Six months on while the new Parramatta Stadium is slowly but surely taking shape, the promise of a new stadium at Moore Park has seemingly descended into a "political shitfight".

Not my words, but those of almost every stakeholder involved in this process you talk to.

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There's said to be division between "unelected bureaucrats" in the Premier's office who want to sideline the idea of a new stadium at Moore Park, instead preferring a refurbishment, and the office of Sports Minister Stuart Ayres, whose vision is a new stadium network that will service the city for 30 years or more.

Meanwhile, the spin doctoring from many quarters is further constipating the issue, with reporters being pulled one way or the other. Of course, this column is above all that … (Stop rolling your eyes!)

All I know is that I've seen the future. Sydney's brand new stadium should be exactly like the stadium in which I watched Super Bowl 50 in February.

SCG Trust and government representatives toured Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara two days before the match between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers.

This is the home of the San Francisco 49ers – the team Jarryd Hayne plays for, like you didn't know – but on this occasion it hosted the biggest sporting contest in the world.

I didn't watch from a plush press box or corporate suite. A man of the people - and with an all-access media pass - I took vantage points all around the stadium throughout the match. Given how long an NFL fixture takes to complete, there was plenty of time.

The view from each seat was superb. If I wasn't in a seat, I could easily see the action and half-time entertainment on the enormous screens at each end of the stadium.

 

A photo posted by Andrew Webster (@awebster75) on

And if I wasn't in a seat, there was every chance I was making my way to a food and beverage outlet and buying a hot dog or gourmet chicken pesto sandwich and a beautifully chilled Budweiser and then (Fairfax accounts, please look away now) using the corporate card to tap-and-go.

How long did I wait in a line? A nanosecond. Biggest game in the universe this year and I barely waited, barely missed a second of the play.

When it was all over, the crowd of 71,088 souls freely moved out of the stadium, with yawning concourses and pathways meaning they were quickly out and away into the gentle California evening and beyond.

So God bless America and Peyton Manning and Beyonce and last but not least Levi's Stadium. It's an experience this hack will never forget.

And that's the thing that Ayres wants to deliver to Sydney with a brand new stadium at Moore Park: an experience. There's a push to refurbish both Allianz and ANZ stadiums. As NRL boss Dave Smith would often argue before he departed the scene, that would be like "putting lipstick on a pig".

What is the point of spending $1 billion on a remodelled ANZ Stadium, when it will still be stuck in the middle of Sydney Olympic Park, choked with traffic, and it only has express train access for the big games?

What is the point of spending that money when you could spend the same amount on a new state-of-the-art stadium on the edge of the CBD, that will in time be accessible via light rail from Central and other areas, that will be of the ilk of Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara and Emirates Stadium in London and Allianz Arena in Munich?

What's the point of putting lipstick on two pigs that will only partly solve some of the problems both of these pigs have, with more lipstick needed down the track?

Sydney has the chance to finally build a stadium that it deserves, that will last for generations. The other major cities in this country are doing it and leaving Sydney behind.

If one more sports fan tells me, "Oh, you just have to see the new Adelaide Oval" I might just have to break two decades of tradition and pay my own way into a sporting event.

Perth is building a new stadium. Brisvegas has Suncorp and don't Queenslanders enjoy telling us how it's the best place to watch footy in the entire world.

Meanwhile, Melbourne is light years ahead of everyone with its sporting infrastructure, so much so that Collingwood president Eddie McGuire wants to knock down Etihad and build a new $1 billion stadium adjacent to the MCG.

It's time for Sydney to grow up.

Parramatta Stadium will soon service footy in the west. We have a world-class racecourse at Royal Randwick. The SCG remains one of the world's most sacred venues.

There is still a purpose for ANZ Stadium, especially for the headline matches and events because of its capacity.

The vision not that long ago was for a stadium network across the city, which will service everyone.

That means sporting teams, especially NRL teams, can play out of different venues at different stages of the season.

If they build it will they come?

Sydney's been starved of decent stadiums for so long, it will take a real cultural change to drag fans from rugby league back to the game instead of watching it on TV.

A new stadium suddenly gives them more reason to come to the game than long, snaking lines to get in, similar lines to buy beer and food, and then a crush to get out. They get an experience.

Thankfully, they will get this brand new stadium we speak of. They will get their Levi's Stadium.

And they will. Because, on September 4 last year, the Premier said they would.

Heads must roll

What's it going to take, Parramatta fans, to dump chairman Steve Sharp and his board?

Word out of the NRL is the salary cap mess that has resurfaced this week is unlikely to end in the loss of competition points, but a heavy fine looms.

Worse than that, it means a large chunk of the salary cap for next season will be chewed up. And that means players will need to be shed.

And that means the brave new dawn with new players like Kieran Foran, Michael Gordon, Beau Scott and Michael Jennings will be a false one. The Eels board doesn't seem smart enough to rort the cap. That they keep breaching the rules, though, means the chairman must go.

Hadley on way back

Ray Hadley will call his first NRL match for Channel Nine this season when the Bulldogs and Bunnies meet on Good Friday.

There has been confusion about what the veteran caller's role would be on Nine this year. When he didn't call on the first weekend of the season, many wondered if he would call for Nine any longer.

The issue is that Hadley can commentate for Nine as long as the match doesn't clash with 2GB, where he's been calling – of course - for years.

That counts him out of Friday nights – where there is now only one match – and Sundays. Ray Warren is the lead caller and is for now the preferred for the Thursday game.

2GB has not budged on its deal allowing Hadley to call for Nine, meaning some juggling will have to happen.

Nine's new head of sport, Tom Malone, confirmed Hadley and the emerging Mat Thompson would be used throughout the season.

"Ray Warren is our out lead commentator and will call as many games as possible this year," he said. "When Rabs is resting his tonsils Ray Hadley and Mat Thompson will call for Nine."

Stepping out

SPOTTED: Mitchell Peace getting a foot massage at Blooming Day Spa in Neutral Bay on Saturday.

Our spy – who wants to remain anonymous because he doesn't want anyone else to know he was also getting a foot massage – said the Roosters halfback was sitting there, drawing on a note pad, as his feet were being worked on.

In other sport star sightings, leading jockey Hugh Bowman was spotted pounding the Coogee-Clovelly walk, powering past morning joggers and walkers.

Fun in a good cause

Get down to Blackmore Oval in Leichhardt on Saturday to get a massive fill of rugby league.

Wanderers Old Boys will take on Leichhardt Juniors Old Boys to raise money and awareness for both junior clubs and the aid effort in Fiji after Cyclone Winston.

Retired NRL players Bronson Harrison and Josh Lewis will play, while Wests Tigers star Robbie Farah and captain Aaron Woods will be there as assistant coaches.

There will be NRL clinics, food, drinks, live DJs all day and more. Gates open at noon, main game at 3pm.

The week

THE QUOTE

"Is this Disclosure or Ben Hunt because they dropped the ball?" – A listener's text on Breakfast with Matt and Alex on Triple J about the English electro duo's remix of the Flume song Never Be Like You. Rugby league: she's everywhere.

THUMBS UP

The explosion of excitement from Matildas players when they qualified for the Olympics was pure gold. Last year, their coach was sacked and then they were pawns in the dispute between the FFA and the players' association. All forgotten now with a place in Rio assured.

THUMBS DOWN

Sorry, Maria Sharapova but I'm not buying it. Her carefully crafted media conference in which she took "full responsibility" for testing positive to the banned substance meldonium was a clear attempt from the richest sportswoman in the world to avoid a four-year ban and keep the dollars rolling in.

It's a big weekend for ... Andrew McFadden, the Warriors coach who has whizzed past the Tigers' Jason Taylor as the first NRL coach likely to be sacked. Luckily, they have an easy one on Friday – the Broncos.

It's an even bigger weekend for … Steph Curry, who is probably the greatest athlete on the planet right now. He keeps bailing out his Golden State Warriors in the NBA. "I kinda see it as what I'm supposed to do," he says.

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