The Sydney Cricket Ground is one of Australia’s sporting icons, a ground steeped in history and tradition, a venue which has played host to a myriad of moments now etched into the memories of this country.
It is also singularly unfit to host the NRL grand final.
ANZ Stadium will close its doors after hosting Game 1 of the 2020 State of Origin series for renovations, an upgrade that is expected to take three years. A new grand final venue is needed, and the NRL have settled on the SCG – at least for 2020.
It’s the wrong choice.
The SCG is a fantastic sporting venue – as long as you’re there in summer watching the cricket or sitting in the stands for an AFL match. It’s suited to Sherrins, not Steedens.
It’s not a rugby league ground anymore. It never was.
If you need binoculars while sitting side-on at halfway just to see what’s happening, you’re not at a good stadium.
The playing surface on a rugby league field can be no wider than 68 metres. The SCG has a width of 136 metres.
You don’t need to be a mathematician realise it’s a pretty substantial gap of empty grass between the stands and playing surface.
There’s also the steep rise in the middle of the pitch. Old coaches and players sitting on the sideline had to stand up on their toes to see what was happening on the other side of the field.
That’s a bit of a stretch to make the stadium sound worse than it is, but the point is that’s it’s not the best place to watch a rectangular-field sport. Certainly not in Australia, and not even in Sydney.
What the SCG does have on its side is history. A damn long one at that. It’s hosted 53 NRL grand finals, including for 35 years in a row at one point before the NSWRL (soon to be ARL, then NRL) played around with different venues.
But a great lineage isn’t always the best measuring stick for the present. In that regard, the SCG is the Mitchell Pearce or Shaun Marsh of this stadium debate.
Want to know what the emerging talent in better form is? Suncorp Stadium.
While certainly no new kid on the block, Suncorp has become the premier rugby league stadium in the country, a genuine world-class facility.
It’s just about time the city, one that’s undeniably passionate about the sport, has earned the right to host the game’s showpiece event.
It has greater capacity than the Cricket Ground, the seating is closer to the action, and the distance to public transport and access to the ground is miles better than the Moore Park debacle. The Broncos’ home attendance averages make most, if not all, of Sydney’s look second-rate year in and out.
Hell, even the food and drink is usually cheaper!
This is the perfect opportunity to test the waters, for the NRL to dip their toes in the Brisbane pond and see if they come back with gold socks on.
With ANZ out of the equation for the near-future, Allianz Stadium still under construction and the new Bankwest Stadium just too small for the occasion, there shouldn’t have been any other option than Suncorp.
With all the other stadiums falling by the wayside and opening up a spot for the gold medal, Suncorp is Steven Bradbury, ready to coast past them to claim the prize.
But instead, the NRL have handed the win to someone who didn’t, and shouldn’t have, made it past of the qualifying race.
A quote from NRL CEO Todd Greenberg in making the SCG announcement should genuinely concern those in Queensland.
“We are not losing sight of the fact that over a four-year period we will have three purpose-built rectangular venues opening in Sydney. This remains a great result for the game.”
“This remains a great result for the game,” he says.
This remains a great result for Sydney, is what it reads.
It’s the same traditionalist mentality that has kept the AFL grand final at the MCG all these years. It’s unimaginable for those running the game that the season-ending showpiece would leave home.
The SCG would be a fitting grand final venue for an anniversary year of some sort – a 125-year anniversary, for example.
But for the next two years? It’s a decision which doesn’t add up.