Rugby League CEO Todd Greenberg has announced that finals footy will be returning to suburban grounds for the first time in almost a decade. Per Greenberg, Sydney-based teams will have the choice to play their finals footy at the SCG, ANZ Stadium or Bankwest Stadium. This will stand until the Allianz Stadium is rebuilt.
In a statement, Greenberg said, “There was an opportunity to change the way we think about the finals series venues with Allianz Stadium not available and further challenges ahead with the redevelopment of ANZ Stadium. Clearly, Bankwest Stadium will be a great option for us for the finals series this year but it will also be wonderful to see the potential for our week one finals matches to return to suburban settings.”
This certainly has implications for those that bet on rugby, as well. Rather than teams playing at a neutral site, oddsmakers will now have to account for one of the sides enjoying a legitimate home-field advantage, which hasn’t been the case in recent seasons.
The last time finals footy was played at a suburban stadium was in 2010. Week one of the 2017 finals drew just 75,000 fans across the 4 matches. The NRL previously had a policy that said Sydney finals had to take place at either ANZ Stadium or Moore Park.
Playing the games at suburban stadiums should be a boost for attendance at the finals. There was understandably not a ton of interest when teams like the Sea Eagles or Panthers were forced to play at Allianz Stadium or ANZ Stadium, neither of which is particularly close to their respective home venues.
Should a side earn hosting rights by finishing first, second, fifth or sixth in week one, they will have the choice to play at their own stadiums. Teams based in Sydney will also have the chance to host games in the brand-new Bankwest Stadium, home of the Eels. The SCG, where the Roosters will play their home finals, is another option.
Greenberg hinted that this may be just a temporary policy until the Allianz Stadium’s renovation is complete. He added, “This will be in place for the 2019 finals series. Once we have the full Sydney stadia network back online we will reassess again.”
The NRL has also altered their policy regarding grand final qualifiers. Newcastle and Canberra will be given the rights to host preliminary finals should either side advance that far. The old rules dictated that both sides would have been forced to host their week three fixtures at Allianz or ANZ Stadium.
North Queensland, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Melbourne and the Warriors will also be afforded the chance to host final fixtures. This new policy is expected to remain in place until 2022 at the earliest, when Allianz Stadium’s construction is scheduled to be completed.