The game just feels better at suburban grounds. (Mark Evans/Getty Images)
The game just feels better at suburban grounds. (Mark Evans/Getty Images)

NRL commissioner’s bid to save suburban grounds

RACING NSW supremo Peter V'landys has vowed to use his new role as an NRL independent commissioner to help save Sydney's ageing suburban grounds from oblivion.

V'landys is an old-school fan of the tribalism and atmosphere from playing and viewing games at WIN Stadium, Brookvale Oval, Leichhardt, Belmore Sports Ground, Shark Park, Campbelltown, Kogarah and Penrith.

Whilst initially reluctant to comment, V'landys was encouraged to speak up by NRL Chairman Peter Beattie on the venue issues.

Peter V'landys wants to save the local game. (Britta Campion)
Peter V'landys wants to save the local game. (Britta Campion)

He fully supports the NSW government's stadium in investment at Parramatta, Allianz and ANZ but wants to ensure rugby league will always be played in Sydney's suburbs.

The State Government is knocking down Allianz Stadium and rebuilding the venue at a cost of $730 million, building a new $350 million venue at Parramatta and spending $810 million on redeveloping ANZ Stadium at Homebush.

Yet no money has been committed to the suburban venues.

"Tribal followings come from being active attendees at games and having families in Sydney attending suburban grounds is imperative to the future popularity of the game," V'landys said.

"It's absolutely shameful that an international, cosmopolitan city like Sydney does not have rugby league stadiums that are world class.

"I'm 100 per cent supportive of the NSW Government's initiatives that will see Parramatta, Allianz and ANZ stadiums rebuilt or upgraded.

"However, I'm also strongly of the belief that suburban grounds have an important role to play and should also be upgraded for today's entertainment venue standards.

"With today's entertainment expectations, the grounds don't cut it."

The V'landys plan has the support of the NRL's television networks, Fox Sports and Channel 9, whose bosses are sick of broadcasting matches featuring thousands of empty seats as the backdrop.

Under V'landys' watch at Racing NSW, he enticed the government to support and revamp Royal Randwick into one of the world's great spectator racing venues. The $150 million facility was completed in 2013.

He has strong connections in government and the high-end business contacts to ensure his push to improve suburban venues will be taken seriously.

Local fans are able to get closer to their team. (Gregg Porteous)
Local fans are able to get closer to their team. (Gregg Porteous)

"These days people paying for entertainment expect to get good access to toilets, to buy a beer and a meal and get a comfortable seat," he said.

"We have to be doing everything in our power to entice people, especially the younger generation, to the grounds so that they can experience the passion, the excitement and pulsating atmosphere of watching live footy.

"It's a particularly important challenge now that the television coverage is so good."

These grounds are in the game’s DNA. (Gregg Porteous)
These grounds are in the game’s DNA. (Gregg Porteous)

V'landys says more fans and better facilities will have enormous economic and social benefits.

"Boys and girls experiencing this will want to participate and be part of the game," he says.

"This gets them away from playing games on computers for hours on end.

"One example of economic benefit is that exercise has enormous health benefits and tackles the obesity epidemic which in turn reduces the strain on our health system.

"The participation increase not only benefits the health of kids but also assists with their personal development in being part of a team and the social outcomes coming from this."

 

Leichhardt Oval under the sun. (Gregg Porteous)
Leichhardt Oval under the sun. (Gregg Porteous)

V'landys was himself a handy rugby league player growing up in Wollongong.

He played in the same junior league alongside legendary NSW and Kangaroos forward Steve Roach and former Australian fullback Gary Jack.

"I joined the commission to hopefully pay back the debt I owe because it was playing rugby league as part of a team that had enormous impact on shaping my future," he said.

"The Victorians and the AFL must jump with joy every time we fight amongst ourselves on spending moneys on sporting grounds.

"The economic benefits are immeasurable for a city like Melbourne that has three seasons in one day and no harbour, but is still able to take pride in having stadiums that are world class, and are now moving to having suburban grounds just as good at which all levels of Australian rules football can be played."

The Victorian Government last month announced a $500 million upgrade of grounds, with $242 million allocated for suburban and regional grounds including Moorabbin Oval, Whitten Oval and Princes Park

Meanwhile, V'landys has also hit back at claims he wants to have a more senior role in the NRL and replace former QLD premier Peter Beattie as chairman.

"Peter Beattie is the right man at the right time," V'landys said.

"He has my 110 per cent support and I feel privileged to work alongside him.

"You will see some exceptional results come through under his leadership over the next few years."

V'landys insists he has unfinished business in NSW racing to build on the momentum of The Everest The Championships and the growth of country racing.

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