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Sydney locks down NRL Grand Final for the long-term

James Tedesco of the Sydney Roosters is tackled during the 2019 NRL Grand Final against the Canberra Raiders at ANZ Stadium (by Matt King/Getty Images)

Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) has announced that its Grand Final will effectively remain in Sydney until at least 2046 after reaching a resolution on where its showpiece game will be staged amid the Aus$2bn (€1.23bn/$1.36bn) upgrade project for the city’s two main stadia.

ANZ Stadium has been the traditional home of the Grand Final since 1999, staging this year’s event on October 6, but it is part of the New South Wales government’s contentious infrastructure project. The venue at Sydney Olympic Park, also known as Stadium Australia, is being redeveloped, while Allianz Stadium at Moore Park is being demolished to make way for an entirely new facility.

The project had left open the question of where the Grand Final would be staged while work is being completed, and Queensland had been heavily linked to taking at least one game to Brisbane. However, as part of an agreement reached with the NSW Government, the NRL has said the Grand Final will be held at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in 2020 and 2021.

The event will be staged at the new Allianz Stadium in 2022, before returning to ANZ Stadium when its Aus$810m upgrade is completed in 2023. The Grand Final is effectively locked in for Sydney until the end of 2046 due to a 25-year deal agreed in March 2018 which won’t take effect until the Aus$2bn stadium project nears completion.

The dual-stadium development project proved a political battleground ahead of March’s state elections in New South Wales, but is now progressing in earnest. NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said the outcome for the immediate future of the Grand Final both acknowledged the NSW Government’s commitment to providing the game with world class stadia and ensured the game did not incur a financial loss.

He said in a statement: “By 2023 the game will have three brand new state-of-the-art rugby league venues to ensure the optimum game day experience for our fans while our bottom line will not be impacted by using alternative Grand Final venues during the construction phase. This deal will benefit rugby league fans everywhere because it ensures we can continue to increase investment in grassroots participation right across the country.”

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said the deal with the NSW Government is worth more than Aus$15m, adding that the offer was more lucrative than rival bids from the Queensland, Victorian and Perth governments.

The NRL had been concerned about the potential financial impact of staging the Grand Final at the SCG, which has a capacity of around 35,000 less than ANZ Stadium, for two years in a row. Greenberg admits that the League could have taken the game to more suitable rectangular stadia in other states, but added: “Part of me agrees with that, that it’s (the SCG is) not the greatest experience. But it’s short-term decision-making now for a much longer-term future.

“Effectively it’s long-term thinking for our fans. What that means is we’ll have some short-term pain to get through during the next few years, but what the ultimate prize is Aus$2bn of infrastructure development, three brand-new stadiums in Sydney.”

The third venue referred to by Greenberg is Bankwest Stadium, which opened in Western Sydney in April. Regarding the decision to pass up the offer from Queensland to take the Grand Final to Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, the NRL chief said: “What I’d say is this (to Queensland fans): When you deal with a government who’s spending effectively Aus$2bn of infrastructure development, what goes with that is a promise of your content. And that’s been the primary part of our discussion.”