Canberra Raiders fans rushed to get tickets to attend an NRL blockbuster this weekend, causing the Ticketek site to temporarily crash on Tuesday ahead of the coronavirus crowd changes.
The Raiders will be free to offer 5974 ticketed seats for their clash against the Melbourne Storm on Saturday night, with the total attendance to be about 6500 a week after a successful homecoming against the Dragons.
ACT chief health officer Dr Kerryn Coleman has agreed to the figure and tickets went on sale to members at 2pm on Tuesday. Members who were not part of the 1500-strong crowd last week will be given priority until Wednesday afternoon. Non members will be able to buy tickets from 9am on Thursday if they are available.
The large-gathering increase comes as the government prepares to announce changes for the next phase of the COVID-19 recovery plan, which will be implemented from Friday afternoon.
Contact sports in Canberra will be free to resume, with Hockey ACT starting its season immediately while other codes will wait until July 18 or July 24 for their opening round. Grassroots sporting matches will crowds capped at 250 people.
MORE CANBERRA SPORT
But the easing of physical distancing restrictions allowed the Raiders and ACT Brumbies to return to Canberra Stadium last week with 1500 people in the seats as part of the government's pilot test for large gatherings.
Coleman has given the all clear for the teams to fill 25 per cent of the stadium's seated capacity, as well as hosting corporate suites. There will be more food outlets open to cater for the bigger crowd, gates will open 1.5 hours before kick-off and fans can sit in household groups instead of being two or three seats apart.
"The chief health officer, the venue and the club were really happy with how things went last Friday, hence the reason why we've been granted permission to up the intake," said Raiders general manager Jason Mathie.
"But I know the NRL was also really appreciative of the clean zones put into effect for the players. Currently we're satisfying everyone and we made sure what we put into effect for the pilot, it will remain in place as the crowd gets increased. That will help people with how things are structured."
The Storm was forced to relocate to Queensland last week as positive coronavirus cases in Victoria jumped dramatically. Their move north means they won't be subject to border closures, with both the ACT and NSW shutting off access to Victorians.
The Raiders have won their past three games against Melbourne and got their season back on track when they beat the Dragons at Canberra Stadium last weekend. It was their first game in Canberra since March.
Melbourne fans will have to wait for tickets to go on sale to the general public if they want to attend, but the decision to close the borders to Victorians will make it unlikely any Storm supporters will be at the ground.
"Any non-ACT residents will not be allowed to enter the ACT from Victoria without an exemption," the government said. "It's unlikely anyone from Melbourne will attend the game unless they are already in the ACT and not subject to quarantine requirements."
Stadium staff may still conduct identification checks at the stadium, while corporate guests will have to sign a registration sheet when entering their allocated areas.
"A COVID-19 safety plan is in place for [Canberra Stadium] to ensure that staff, players and officials are aware of their responsibilities, and that appropriate risk mitigation procedures are in place," the government said.
"Canberra Stadium staff will carefully manage the entry, exit and flow of spectators through the venue."