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Why Sharks should be forced to switch home final

Is anyone else getting deja vu all over again looking at the new Allianz Stadium?

Kinda looks like the old one but in high definition.

Of course it’s a much more modern structure and the facilities will be much better than the old one but is it really going to be worth the $828,000,000 of NSW government funds to replace the old one?

Before the narks get too antsy, there are many improvements in the new stadium like purpose-built facilities for female athletes, a larger range of food and beverage outlets (who will still probably rip you off big time like every other NRL venue) and according to the official website, the “latest WiFi technology for an engaging, interactive fan experience” – corporate speak for a lot of shiny bells and/or whistles.

The use of recycled materials, making the venue energy and water efficient are all admirable and the finished product looks great – the design of the seats looks funky – but the 42,500-seat arena already has that feel of a new car that will age in value as soon as it’s driven off the lot.

A week after its first match as an NRL venue and other teams are already trying to avoid playing there.

Cronulla are desperate to host a final at Shark Park if they leapfrog the Cowboys into second spot in the final two rounds

Players, the coaching staff and CEO have been telling anyone who’ll listen in recent weeks that they want to play at PointsBet Stadium if they rise to second.

Locked on 34 points with North Queensland heading into the final fortnight, the Sharks have strugglers Canterbury and Newcastle on their to-do list while the Cowboys travel to Homebush this weekend to face a desperate Rabbitohs side before returning home to take on premiers Penrith in the final round. 

That may turn out to be a blessing in disguise as Ivan Cleary could rest a bunch of his top-liners with little to gain for the minor premiers from those 80 minutes apart from injuries.

Sharks celebrates after scoring a try (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The NRL has not indicated one way or another to Cronulla about whether they will be allowed to host a first-round final or be forced to transfer the match to TNAIAS (the new and improved Allianz Stadium).

Clearly officials at Rugby League Central are hedging their bets – why make a decision unless you have to do so. If the Cowboys hang on or in the unlikely event that the Storm leapfrog both teams, the qualifying final will be played at a state-of-the-art stadium in Townsville or Melbourne.

That’s where finals should be played – not at suburban venues with limited capacity, particularly Shark Park where the ongoing construction work at the adjacent leagues club means only 12,000 fans could squeeze into the ground.

If the Sharks do pip the Cowboys at the regular season post and the NRL let them play the match on their own ground instead of the shiny new one a mere 25km to the north, that would be a terrible look for the league’s ongoing negotiations with the state government.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 12: A general view of the newly built Allianz Stadium during a Sydney FC media opportunity at Allianz Stadium on August 12, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The newly built Allianz Stadium in Sydney. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Try telling the millions of taxpayers who are already opposed to the NRL’s greed in demanding money for new stadiums and centres of excellence for their clubs when there’s the not so trivial matters of a stifling pandemic, flooding and bushfires draining the public coffers.

Penrith are likely to host their qualifying final at BlueBet Stadium and that should also be knocked on the head – send them to CommBank Stadium even in the unlikely event that the ground’s regular tenants, Parramatta, finish fourth.

For a venue to host a finals match it should have a minimum capacity of 20,000 seats, not the potential to hit that benchmark if you cram every fan and their dog onto the hills at each end of the ground like the Panthers hope to do in week one of the playoffs.

Of the 16 NRL franchises, there are only four teams left who don’t have a regular home ground which is at a decent standard – the Panthers, who are getting a new ground in the next couple of years, Sharks, Dragons and Sea Eagles. 

This debate flares up every year when one of those sides is on track to host a playoff.

Eels fans at CommBank Stadium. (Photo by Steven Markham/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The counter-argument is that fans of these teams won’t travel to CommBank or Allianz if playoffs are switched there. Bad luck then. Offer discounted tickets to the away teams fans – there have been matches at the old SFS where Newcastle fans have outnumbered Sydney sides in what was a major embarrassment for those teams.

If the National Rugby League wants to look like a national competition, it should not have post-season matches played at suburban venues. 

It’s not like the bad old days where teams would be forced to play every match at the SFS because that was “headquarters”. 

Up until the early 2000s, finals matches featuring two non-Sydney sides were happening where you’d have the ludicrous situation of teams being forced to fly to Moore Park rather than host matches in their own cities. The last example of this was the Broncos taking on the Knights at the old SFS in 2005 – suffice to say, the house full sign did not go up on that occasion.

Even so, Brisbane and Newcastle still managed to attract more than 22,000 spectators to that game so the argument that teams from elsewhere in Sydney shouldn’t have to relocate to the new Allianz Stadium does not hold water.

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