Enough excuses, it's time to fill stadiums for Sydney finals showdowns
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Enough excuses, it's time to fill stadiums for Sydney finals showdowns

The weather looks pretty decent in Sydney on Friday and Saturday. Temperate days, lovely cool evenings, perhaps the chance of a light shower to keep the spring lawns ticking along. It's only the magpies that put a small blemish on this time of year and in the rugby league sense, those poor buggers haven't been seen since 1999.

But still, there's the stadiums. One is out in the middle of nowhere; a giant, cookie cutter of a generic mop bucket with as much soul as the Temptations tribute act going through the motions in front of the empty dance floor at the local RSL.

Red and white army: Dragons supporters have had a lot to shout about since Sunday.

Red and white army: Dragons supporters have had a lot to shout about since Sunday.Credit:AAP

The other is held together by sticky tape and may as well be condemned. It doesn't even have wi-fi, or a hill, or fancy tins of craft beer like Henson Park. It's so non-Instagramable it defies belief and if it doesn't appear through a lo-fi filter on your social media channels, were you even there?

Even if you can manage to get past all of that there's the trains and the buses and the lack of parking. And the ticket prices. Oh, don't forget rugby league is now a 'TV sport' that's far better enjoyed in your loungeroom, where you can expertly craft your outraged tweets in peace and try and get a like from Gus Gould.

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And the gangs. And Donald Trump. And the culture wars. And the rental crisis. And the avocado shortage, or is that over? Have we forgotten anything? The list of reasons why Sydneysiders don't go to watch live rugby league is long and exhaustive these days.

None of them should apply on Friday and Saturday. There's not a valid excuse in NSW that should preclude an all-Sydney weekend of NRL semi-finals playing out in front of thumping crowds.

That's not to say there aren't inherent issues with infrastructure and stadia. You may have read about those in the recent past. But sometimes, you've just got to suck it up. A field, your team, a cold beer, sudden-death footy ... let's just roll with that very decent equation for the short term.

Rugby league has continued to be a ratings winner for the NRL. But the AFL would be quick, and justified, to point out that they have been playing their finals in front of immense crowds, the kind that has left ticketing agencies in varying states of meltdown.

You could only dream of rugby league still being that tribal, in terms of the weekly ritual of throwing on the scarf and jersey and getting out to the game as a rite of passage. The codes have taken differing paths on that front but this weekend, with the Sharks, Panthers, Rabbitohs and Dragons squaring off, maybe it's time to get back in the groove.

Souths owner Russell Crowe was doing his best to plant those sort of images in the mind of fans on social media, tweeting; "The folkloric tales of mighty finals clashes and images of record crowds covering the roof tops come to mind. It’s going to huge. I’ll see you there."

That kind of romance should appeal to fans and members of the Dragons and Rabbitohs, two clubs with deep historic links and a rivalry to match. Even the Dragons diehards didn't expect them to come back from Brisbane with a pulse. How sweet it would be for them to send Souths out in straight sets.

The Rabbitohs faithful are in reasonably good spirits themselves, even off the back of a first-week defeat to the Storm. It was the best game of the weekend by some margin and if key men Greg Inglis and Adam Reynolds are fit, a showdown against arch rivals the Roosters will be inked on the calendar.

All bets are off on Friday night as the Sharks and Panthers meet at Allianz Stadium. The former came into the finals with a reputation of rising to the occasion at this time of year. They have more to offer than they showed against the Roosters. Penrith, meanwhile, might inherit the bolter tag that most had bestowed on the Broncos. Both can progress.

Strength in numbers: Souths fans should be out in force at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.

Strength in numbers: Souths fans should be out in force at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.Credit:AAP

Three sets of Sydney fans are going to find themselves supporting a team one game away from a grand final. After last year's decider between a team from Melbourne and a team from North Queensland, that alone should be exciting enough to jolt a city that can take its rugby league for granted into action.

Family tickets start from $50. For the sake of those of us that follow the game from cities where the NRL won't be seen again until 2019, put your bum on an uncomfortable seat, have a ludicrously overpriced schooner, munch on a chicken nugget that has been in the warmer since 1989 and enjoy every bloody moment.

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