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Sun setting on suburban stadiums

Date

Another piece of history slips away as suburban ovals face extinction, writes Adrian Proszenko.

Fading fast … Leichhardt Oval is below the NRL standard for venues.

Fading fast … Leichhardt Oval is below the NRL standard for venues. Photo: Getty Images

Manly powerbrokers will hold a crisis meeting on Tuesday amid fears the state government's stadiums strategy has sounded the death knell for Brookvale Oval.

And it is likely to spell the end for another of Sydney's most historic grounds, Leichhardt Oval, with Wests Tigers chief executive Stephen Humphreys conceding it is now ''very difficult for us to continue to maintain Leichhardt as an NRL-standard venue''.

The Sea Eagles have formed a committee to tackle the issue of how to bring their dilapidated home ground, arguably in the worst shape of all the major rugby league venues, up to sufficient NRL standard.

Below par ... Brookvale Oval is in much need of a revamp.

Below par ... Brookvale Oval is in much need of a revamp. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

The report, tabled by the NSW Minister for Sport, Graham Annesley, outlined a strategy to invest in major venues, such as ANZ Stadium and Allianz Stadium, rather than a scattergun approach to funding suburban grounds. The study also signalled the prospect of a ''tier two'' stadium in western Sydney, which could mean a new venue or the redevelopment of Parramatta Stadium, Centrebet Stadium or Campbelltown stadium into a hub with a greater capacity.

While politicians will never dictate where games should be played, the moves are part of a concerted push for an AFL-style model, where the majority of games are played at large stadiums such as the MCG and Etihad Stadium.

However, none of the news was positive for Sea Eagles fans, with history showing they are not prepared to travel to Gosford or Allianz Stadium to support their team. At a finals fixture shifted to Moore Park against North Queensland last year, the crowd was only 13,972 as many supporters opted against making the short trip across the Spit Bridge. Under the club's constitution, 10 games per year must be played at Brookvale Oval. While Tony Abbott pledged $10 million towards the upkeep of Brookvale last election, there are fears it could miss out on the funds required to survive if the opposition leader does not gain office.

The former Senate president Kerry Sibraa is heading up a Brookvale Oval Committee war council which will meet on Tuesday for discussions before a club board meeting. He was reluctant to comment before the meeting - which will include chairman Scott Penn, general manager David Perry and representatives from council, sponsors and the football club - other than to say: ''We're going to be working with the council, the state government and the federal government to examine ways to allow us to stay at Brookvale Oval.''

However, Fairfax Media understands the committee is planning to approach the ARLC in the hope the commission will lobby governments for funds on its behalf. Another option is to attempt to come under the Venues NSW umbrella, following the lead of WIN, Parramatta and Hunter stadiums. Meetings have been set up with the NSW Treasurer, Michael Baird, also the local member for Manly, and Annesley in January. ''If you want to turn all of the north side of Sydney - all 1.2 million of us - towards another code, forcing us out of Brookvale would be a good way of doing it,'' a source said.

''The Bulldogs have been able to get $9 million of funding for a training facility but we haven't got a single cent from the federal government.''

Humphreys said the strategy would not affect the four scheduled Leichhardt games next year but there is a strong chance they could be the last at the colourful inner-west ground.

''The review in isolation would suggest that, in the absence of any investment, it will be very difficult for us to continue to maintain Leichhardt as an NRL-standard venue,'' he said. ''There are lots of people, myself included, who like the nostalgic, rustic experience that is Leichhardt Oval. But the fact is spectators expect levels of comfort and convenience that Leichhardt is unable to deliver.

''If you read the strategy, it suggests that Leichhardt Oval and a couple of other venues in Sydney are being set up to be transformed to having a different purpose in the future.''

The Parramatta chief executive, Ken Edwards, a former ANZ Stadium boss, described the lack of suitably sized stadiums as ''the biggest constraint on growth of rugby league in western Sydney''. For that reason, he welcomed the report and will unveil a detailed response for Eels members this week.

''We put out a public target of 20,000 members for 2013 but as part of our strategic plan, which falls under the NRL's strategic plan, the club desires to have up to 40,000 members by 2017,'' Edwards said.

''The only way to do that is if there is a significant increase in the capacity of Parramatta Stadium or if there is a new purpose-built rectangular stadium built somewhere in western Sydney.

Penrith supremo Phil Gould believes the strategy is a crucial plank in rugby league securing its future in the west. ''We're comfortable with what's been announced by the state government and we acknowledge that they see the importance of western Sydney and the possibility of a new or refurbished venue. We're confident we'll be included in any discussions towards that end.''

Gould said the announcement did not necessarily mean the death knell of suburban grounds such as Leichhardt Oval, although the game needed to strike the right balance between staging events at boutique and major venues.

''Whilst we do enjoy that trip down memory lane, the bottom line is fans and corporates today demand state-of-the-art corporate facilities. That's where you grow your money and your business. The move to ANZ Stadium has increased the Bulldogs' and South Sydney's memberships significantly. Would a move to ANZ increase the Panthers' membership significantly? I'd have to be convinced that would happen. We've got to go down the line of whatever strategy they've got for a third [major] stadium.''

Tigers officials are hoping any new or refurbished venue will happen in their Campbelltown heartland. ''The report itself talks about how south-west Sydney is the key growth area in greater Sydney and also makes that link between stadiums investment and population growth patterns. To me, it would be quite a diversion from the report if it were not in south-west Sydney,'' Humphreys said.

St George Illawarra split their 12 matches between Kogarah and Wollongong, with both grounds the beneficiaries of recent funding and development. The Dragons' chief executive, Peter Doust, welcomed the report as ''appropriate and timely'', though he would have liked to have seen a more detailed action plan. He supported the strategy of scheduling games at their most appropriate grounds, pointing to the fact that teams such as Souths take the occasional fixture to Perth or the Bulldogs to Mackay.

''They are going there to spread the take-up of their brand, knowing that playing smaller brand games in big venues don't have the right economics,'' Doust said.

Crosstown rivals Cronulla are in a unique situation in that they own their stadium. The Sharks chairman Damian Irvine outlines their long-term strategy, estimated to take about nine years to complete, as redeveloping Toyota Stadium into a ''world-leading boutique ground for a 22,000- to 23,000-seat stadium''.

''Our master plan prior to this stadiums strategy was to improve the stadium but, on commercial terms, it was never about relying solely on handouts and government grants,'' Irvine said.

Only one thing is certain - homeground advantage will take on a whole new meaning in the near future.

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NRL Season 2016

Round 1
Thu, 03 MarTimes shown AEDT
PAR vs BRI 20:05Pirtek
Fri, 04 MarTimes shown AEDT
MAN vs CBY 20:05BO
Sat, 05 MarTimes shown AEDT
CBR vs PEN 15:00GIO
WST vs NZW 17:30CSS
NQL vs CRO 19:301300
Sun, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
SYD vs SOU 16:00AS
GCT vs NEW 18:30Cbus
Mon, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
MEL vs STG 19:00AAMI
Fri, 09 SepTimes shown AEST
vs 00:00TBA
Sat, 10 SepTimes shown AEST
vs 00:00TBA
vs 00:00TBA
Sun, 11 SepTimes shown AEST
vs 00:00TBA
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Round 2
Thu, 10 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN vs CBY 20:05Pepp
Fri, 11 MarTimes shown AEDT
BRI vs NZW 20:05SUN
Sat, 12 MarTimes shown AEDT
CBR vs SYD 15:00GIO
SOU vs NEW 17:30ANZ
PAR vs NQL 19:30Pirtek
Sun, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRO vs STG 16:00Shark Park
MEL vs GCT 18:30AAMI
Mon, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
WST vs MAN 19:00VAS
Fri, 16 SepTimes shown AEST
vs 00:00TBA
Sat, 17 SepTimes shown AEST
vs 00:00TBA
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Round 3
Thu, 17 MarTimes shown AEDT
NQL vs SYD 20:051300
Fri, 18 MarTimes shown AEDT
CBY vs PAR 20:05ANZ
Sat, 19 MarTimes shown AEDT
NEW vs CBR 17:30HS
PEN vs BRI 19:30Pepp
GCT vs WST 21:30Cbus
Sun, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW vs MEL 14:00MSS
STG vs SOU 16:00SCG
Mon, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
MAN vs CRO 19:00BO
Fri, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
vs 00:00TBA
Sat, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
vs 00:00TBA
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Round 4
Fri, 25 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU vs CBY 16:00ANZ
BRI vs NQL 20:05SUN
Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
CBR vs GCT 17:30GIO
SYD vs MAN 19:30AS
Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
STG vs PEN 16:00WIN
Mon, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW vs NEW 14:00MSS
WST vs PAR 16:00ANZ
CRO vs MEL 19:00Shark Park
Sun, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
vs 00:00TBA
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Thu, 31 MarTimes shown AEDT
MAN vs SOU 20:05BO
Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
GCT vs BRI 20:05Cbus
Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL vs NEW 15:00AAMI
WST vs CRO 17:30CSS
NQL vs STG 19:301300
Sun, 03 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD vs NZW 14:00AS
PAR vs PEN 16:00Pirtek
Mon, 04 AprTimes shown AEST
CBY vs CBR 19:00Belmore Sports Ground
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Round 6
Thu, 07 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STG 19:50SUN
Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
SOU vs SYD 19:50ANZ
Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
PAR vs CBR 15:00Pirtek
NZW vs MAN 17:30MSS
PEN vs NQL 19:30Pepp
Sun, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
CRO vs GCT 14:00Shark Park
NEW vs WST 16:00HS
Mon, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
MEL vs CBY 19:00AAMI
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Round 7
Thu, 14 AprTimes shown AEST
MAN vs PAR 19:50BO
Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
NQL vs SOU 19:501300
Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
GCT vs STG 15:00Cbus
CBY vs NZW 17:30Westpac Stadium
BRI vs NEW 19:30SUN
Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CBR vs CRO 14:00GIO
WST vs MEL 16:00VAS
Mon, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PEN 19:00AS
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Round 8
Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI vs SOU 19:50SUN
Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
CBY vs GCT 15:00ANZ
CBR vs WST 17:30GIO
NQL vs PAR 19:301300
Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CRO vs PEN 16:00Shark Park
Mon, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
NEW vs MAN 14:00HS
STG vs SYD 16:00AS
MEL vs NZW 19:00AAMI
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Round 9
Thu, 28 AprTimes shown AEST
SOU vs WST 19:50ANZ
PAR vs CBY 19:50ANZ
Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
PEN vs CBR 15:00Carrington Park
SYD vs NEW 17:30CCS
MAN vs NQL 19:30BO
Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
NZW vs STG 12:00MSS
GCT vs MEL 14:00Cbus
CRO vs BRI 16:00Shark Park
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Round 10
Thu, 12 MayTimes shown AEST
STG vs CBR 19:50Jubilee Oval
Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
PAR vs SOU 19:50Pirtek
Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
PEN vs NZW 15:00AMI Stadium
MEL vs NQL 17:30SUN
MAN vs BRI 19:30SUN
Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
NEW vs CRO 14:00HS
WST vs CBY 16:00ANZ
Mon, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
GCT vs SYD 19:00Cbus
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Round 11
Thu, 19 MayTimes shown AEST
SOU vs STG 19:50ANZ
Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
NQL vs BRI 19:501300
Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
WST vs NEW 15:00CSS
NZW vs CBR 17:30Yarrow Stadium
CRO vs MAN 19:30Shark Park
Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
PEN vs GCT 14:00Pepp
CBY vs SYD 16:00ANZ
Mon, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
PAR vs MEL 19:00Pirtek
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Round 12
Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs WST 19:50SUN
Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
STG vs NQL 19:30WIN
Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CBR vs CBY 16:00GIO
Mon, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
NEW vs PAR 19:00HS
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Round 13
Fri, 03 JunTimes shown AEST
CBR vs MAN 19:50GIO
Sat, 04 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW vs BRI 15:00MSS
NQL vs NEW 17:301300
MEL vs PEN 19:30AAMI
Sun, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs WST 16:00AS
SOU vs GCT 18:30nib Stadium
Mon, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CBY vs CRO 19:00ANZ
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Round 14
Thu, 09 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CBR 19:50SUN
Fri, 10 JunTimes shown AEST
WST vs SOU 19:50ANZ
Sat, 11 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW vs NZW 15:00HS
PAR vs GCT 17:30TIO
SYD vs MEL 19:30AS
Sun, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
MAN vs PEN 16:00BO
Mon, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
STG vs CBY 16:00ANZ
CRO vs NQL 19:00Shark Park
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Round 15
Fri, 17 JunTimes shown AEST
SOU vs PAR 19:50ANZ
Sat, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
STG vs MEL 19:30WIN
Sun, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW vs SYD 16:00MSS
Mon, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
GCT vs MAN 19:00Cbus
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Round 16
Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
PEN vs SOU 19:50Pepp
Sat, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW vs STG 15:00HS
CRO vs NZW 17:30Shark Park
CBY vs BRI 19:30ANZ
Sun, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
GCT vs CBR 14:00Cbus
MEL vs WST 16:00AAMI
Mon, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
NQL vs MAN 19:001300
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Round 17
Thu, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CBY 19:50AS
Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
BRI vs MEL 19:50SUN
Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW vs GCT 15:00MSS
WST vs PEN 17:30ANZ
CRO vs PAR 19:30Shark Park
Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR vs NEW 14:00GIO
SOU vs NQL 16:00Barlow Park
Mon, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
MAN vs STG 19:00BO
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Round 18
Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
PAR vs SYD 19:50Pirtek
Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
CBY vs WST 19:30ANZ
Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN vs CRO 16:00Pepp
Mon, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR vs NQL 19:00GIO
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Round 19
Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
STG vs GCT 19:50Jubilee Oval
Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
MAN vs NZW 17:30nib Stadium
SOU vs BRI 19:30ANZ
Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NEW vs MEL 14:00HS
PEN vs PAR 16:00Pepp
Mon, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CRO 19:00AS
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Round 20
Thu, 21 JulTimes shown AEST
NQL vs CBY 19:501300
Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
BRI vs PEN 19:50SUN
Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR vs NZW 15:00GIO
GCT vs PAR 17:30Cbus
MEL vs SYD 19:30AAMI
Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CRO vs NEW 14:00Shark Park
STG vs WST 16:00ANZ
Mon, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
SOU vs MAN 19:00ANZ
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Round 21
Wed, 27 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW vs PEN 22:00MSS
Thu, 28 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs BRI 00:00AS
CBY vs STG 00:00ANZ
GCT vs CRO 00:00Cbus
PAR vs WST 00:00ANZ
SOU vs CBR 00:00ANZ
MAN vs NEW 00:00BO
NQL vs MEL 00:001300
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Round 22
Thu, 04 AugTimes shown AEST
STG vs BRI 00:00WIN
PAR vs MAN 00:00Pirtek
CRO vs CBR 00:00Shark Park
NEW vs CBY 00:00HS
MEL vs SOU 00:00AAMI
GCT vs NZW 00:00Cbus
WST vs NQL 00:00VAS
PEN vs SYD 00:00Pepp
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Round 23
Wed, 10 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW vs SOU 22:00MSS
Thu, 11 AugTimes shown AEST
CBY vs MAN 00:00ANZ
BRI vs PAR 00:00SUN
WST vs GCT 00:00CSS
STG vs CRO 00:00Jubilee Oval
NEW vs PEN 00:00HS
SYD vs NQL 00:00AS
CBR vs MEL 00:00GIO
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Round 24
Thu, 18 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CBY 00:00SUN
SYD vs STG 00:00AS
NEW vs GCT 00:00HS
NQL vs NZW 00:001300
MAN vs MEL 00:00BO
CBR vs PAR 00:00GIO
PEN vs WST 00:00Pepp
SOU vs CRO 00:00ANZ
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Round 25
Wed, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW vs WST 22:00MSS
Thu, 25 AugTimes shown AEST
CBY vs NQL 00:00Belmore Sports Ground
MEL vs BRI 00:00AAMI
GCT vs PEN 00:00Cbus
MAN vs CBR 00:00BO
CRO vs SYD 00:00Shark Park
NEW vs SOU 00:00HS
PAR vs STG 00:00Pirtek
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Round 26
Wed, 31 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW vs PAR 22:00MSS
Thu, 01 SepTimes shown AEST
BRI vs SYD 00:00SUN
CBY vs SOU 00:00ANZ
STG vs NEW 00:00Jubilee Oval
NQL vs GCT 00:001300
MEL vs CRO 00:00AAMI
WST vs CBR 00:00VAS
PEN vs MAN 00:00Pepp
View All Fixtures

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