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Consolidation is the key to the NRL enjoying excellent crowds every weekend once Western Sydney Stadium and Allianz Stadium are brought up to scratch.
At the moment, we have suburban grounds that are long past their use-by-date (Leichhardt Oval, Lottoland), have extremely limited parking available for families (pretty much every small suburban ground), or are too far away for opposition fans to travel to (my first live NRL game was at Penrith Stadium, and I shan’t be travelling there again any time soon).
To solve this crisis, the NRL needs to bite the bullet and consolidate home grounds.
Western-based teams (Tigers, Bulldogs, Eels, Panthers) must play all their home games at the new Western Sydney Stadium, which will hopefully enjoy a more attractive name in the near future.
Eastern and Southern teams (Roosters, Souths, Sharks, Dragons, as well as the Sea Eagles) will play at Allianz Stadium.
The downside is that clubs give up home-ground advantage, but that’s a bit of a myth, seeing as most crowds are fairly quiet during games, apart from the usual “get em onside”. Crowds in Australia are nowhere near as vocal as those in England, watching the soccer.
So if you have 15,000 fans packed into Kogarah, but they aren’t making too much noise, where is the home advantage? As a Dragons fan, I’ve been to plenty of Kogarah games and apart from about 20 members of the Dragons Army, there isn’t too much singing or chanting to create a really hostile atmosphere.
That aside, clubs also lose a sense of community by no longer playing home games in their local area, or do they?
The Rabbitohs have been homeless for 20 years, but enjoy record membership. The Bulldogs throw a token game Belmore’s way, but have largely abandoned their spiritual home, as have the Tigers.
The Dragons still take games to Wollongong, where they also train at the university, as well as Kogarah, but both grounds lack facilities like free WiFi, parking, public transport access, etc.
I was considering taking my dad to the Dragons-Tigers match later this year, but he is getting on a bit, and I’m not too sure I’d want him walking up Jubilee Avenue post game.
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By playing their home games at a neutral venue, clubs are really looking after their fans by way of first-rate facilities, comfortable seating, easy access to and from the ground, and it would bring the game into the 21st century. Free public transport for anyone going to these venues would also attract fans.
For me, it would mean extra travel from Port Kembla to Allianz Stadium, but is that really such a big ask? If I get to see my team run around in one of the best stadiums in the country, then no, not really.
Fans will protest of course, the really angry ones will only type in capital letters, but most won’t be able to come up with an alternative. What we can all agree on is that getting 13,000 fans in a stadium that can fit 80,000 cannot be allowed to continue.