By Scott Bailey AAP
The venue for this season’s NRL’s grand final is in limbo with the NSW government announcing the upgrade of several Sydney suburban stadiums has been placed on the backburner.
A decision must be made on the grand final venue this week in order to release tickets, but the NRL is yet to commit to Sydney due to a stoush with the state government over stadiums.
As a result the game’s showpiece event could be held in Brisbane for a second straight season.
At the heart of the issue is the upgrade of several suburban grounds, with money initially assigned for the rebuild of Accor Stadium at Olympic Park now to be reallocated.
The NRL initially signed a contract with the state government in 2018 to keep the grand final in Sydney until 2042, conditional upon the $800 million Accor Stadium rebuild.
When that was put off during COVID-19 the deal was technically null and void, with the NRL hopeful a significant amount of the money would be switched for the refurbishment of suburban venues.
A $300 million commitment to the new Penrith stadium has already been made, but there was nothing in the 2022 budget regarding the rebuild of other grounds.
League bosses left meetings with the government in April believing a deal had been struck and venues such as Brookvale Oval, Leichhardt and Shark Park would benefit.
However Premier Dominic Perrottet confirmed on Tuesday the stadium upgrades were no longer a priority in the state budget.
“The NSW Government remains committed to upgrading suburban stadiums however following recent natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is appropriate that further investment in stadia is staged,” Perrottet said.
“The government has just received the Floods Inquiry Report, which will likely require a significant cost to the taxpayer and I note right now there are still 1366 people without a home in NSW due to flooding.
“It should come as no surprise that my top priority is therefore supporting those devastated by the major floods across NSW.”
The issue was an immediate talking point on Tuesday for NRL clubs, who had believed their stadiums would earn much-needed upgrades.
Cronulla will now be ineligible to host NRL-NRLW double-headers next year when their women’s team enters because of inadequate dressing-room facilities.
NRL powerbrokers feel the NSW government has backflipped on their deal, prompting a willingness to reconsider this year’s grand final venue.
But Perrottet argued West Tigers, the Newcastle Knights, Manly Sea Eagles, South Sydney, Sydney Roosters, Canterbury-Bankstown, St George-Illawarra, Parramatta and NSW Rugby League had received funding for centres of excellence recently to the tune of $1.8 billion when combined with CommBank, Allianz and Penrith Stadiums.
“Sydney will always be the home of rugby league and if Peter V’landys wants to take the grand final away from its home, then he can explain that to the fans,” Perrottet said.
Brisbane hosted its first grand final last year due to Sydney’s COVID lockdown and the Queensland government has long been keen to lure the event north.