Already 2020 is the weirdest year a vast majority of the population have lived through, and we’re only in April. So why not throw another spanner in the works and move the NRL grand final to Suncorp Stadium?
Now, yes, there is a contract in place with the New South Wales government for the state to host the grand final for eternity and, yes, New South Wales rugby league fans will claim this is the ‘heartland’ of the sport.
But it’s a tired and worn-out argument. Queensland is equally as much of a rugby league heartland as Sydney is – in fact maybe even more.
I don’t see too many fans tracking from far and wide to watch their team like Cowboys fans do every week or too many Sydney teams getting average crowds well north of 20,000 like the Broncos do despite the fact they play a vast majority of their games on Thursday and Friday nights.
And of course there are the stars who have come out of Brisbane and surrounds – none of them would look out of place in an all-time best rugby league team. Players like Wally Lewis, Darren Lockyer, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and of course Johnathan Thurston.
The passion for the sport in the city is like nowhere else, and as much as it pains me to say it as a NSW man, Brisbane is rapidly becoming the spot for rugby league, even if it is only a one-team city.
Before I go any further, I’m not suggesting this should be a permanent switch either. It just won’t happen – the NRL, broadcasters and fans won’t allow it.
But provided fans are able to attend games again by the time the revised grand final date of 25 October rolls around, the logical choice this year is Suncorp Stadium.
Of course if fans can’t attend, then who cares? Play it at the cheapest stadium possible to cut down on hiring costs – which, by the way, the NRL should be looking to do with each and every round until fans are allowed back into the stadiums.
But, back on topic, with Australia seemingly starting to get the upper hand on this pandemic – and don’t get me wrong, there is still a long road in front of the nations, but the land Down Under is in a far better spot than most other countries around the world – having fans attending events by the end of October with the country reopening domestically seems to be a realistic proposition.
I mentioned Suncorp is the ‘logical choice’ this year, and there are a number of reasons for that.
The first and biggest one, so long as fans are allowed back into stadiums, is that Sydney will not have a ground suitable for hosting the grand final.
Now, if the NRL didn’t at least put a clause into their contract stipulating a ground with appropriate attendance must be available for the grand final to be hosted in the city, then… wow.
But, with cricket set to take over the Sydney Cricket Ground from virtually the day after the NRL grand final was originally supposed to be held and with ANZ Stadium to be redeveloped from June, it would leave Bankwest Stadium as the only alternative if the government were to stick firm and force the grand final to be held in Sydney.
Bankwest is a great stadium, don’t get me wrong. I went there to watch my Dragons lose and still had more fun than I have ever had going to Homebush – apart from one day in 2010 – but it doesn’t have the appropriate capacity for a grand final.
Especially one in a year where tickets will sell like hot cakes because fans are starved of rugby league action.
In fact the NRL have more issues than just grand final day given the stadium predicament – they’re potentially faced with the problem of no SCG or Homebush for most of the finals series.
But grand final day can’t be at a 30,000-seat stadium. It just can’t be allowed to happen, and so as a one-off and a trial for the future, the NRL must investigate the alternative of shipping it north.
Financially it could also make sense. Apart from the simple fact the NRL could sell an extra 20,000 tickets if the grand final went to Brisbane, the money the Queensland government would likely chip in to try and get their own economy going again would be large and should easily allow the NRL to cover any compensation required to be paid to the NSW government.
On top of the stadium predicament, there is also the idea that Suncorp is one of the best rectangular sporting grounds in the country.
I’ve never been to the joint for an Origin game, but it’s on my bucket list. Criticisms of the stadium are few and far between and there is certainly none when it comes to the atmosphere.
There is a reason the stadium has historically given the Broncos such a large advantage, and between rabid home fans and big crowds week in and week out, it creates a daunting atmosphere for opposition teams.
Even with the chance of a Queensland-based team being in this year’s decider appearing slim, Brisbane still has plenty of fans who support other Sydney-based teams, which stems from the days of the Brisbane Rugby League competition being separate to the NSWRL, with many picking clubs before the Broncos existed and that carrying through.
There is no question a grand final in Brisbane would be a successful enterprise, and 2020 might just be the time to try it – if they can get past the issue of one big contract signed to a government with no stadium options.