As we move towards the NRL Top 8 finals series, every single match takes on significant importance – even the teams out of the NRL Finals mix such as the Penrith Panthers and Cronulla Sharks can have a huge impact on the final NRL Table structure.
One of the big factors helping some NRL teams to big wins – is the power of the suburban home ground. Not to be underestimated; old school, close combat grounds such as: Brookvale Oval, OKI Jubilee and Leichhardt Oval are the last remaining grounds where the fans are crowded in virtually on top of the players – creating a ‘snake pit’ atmosphere for enemy teams. Brooky being confirmed today as the official home venue for the Sea Eagles come finals time.
The interesting point here is, that only one of the NRL teams having access to these grounds – uses their home ground permanently. The Manly Sea Eagles make fortress Brookvale their own, their fans answering the call and helping them to a bumper home season in NRL 2007.
The St George Illawarra Dragons after years of basing themselves out of Aussie Stadium – finally went back to their spiritual Kogarah home as well as WIN Stadium several years ago. Their predicament is understandable given they are a ‘merged’ team and need to share the home ground love.
For the Wests Tigers – they too have some home ground power; Leichhardt Oval a seriously powerful ally for the Tigers, their players suggesting the value to them is around 12 points when they play there. Campbelltown Sports Ground is also not too shabby, but probably falls into the ‘mid range’ home grounds – of which we will touch on shortly. The Wests Tigers for financial reasons; continue to use Telstra Stadium for some home games – probably costing themselves huge advantages over enemy teams. When Parramatta faced the Tigers at Telstra earlier this year, they laughed all the way to the bank, as Eels fans walked across the road to turn it into their own fortress; crushing the Tigers in the Telstra wasteland.
Suburban Stadiums, the next category – are the home grounds still sitting amongst the home NRL teams suburbs but are facilitated with extensive seating, grandstands and a new age viewpoint. Parramatta Stadium, Toyota Park (just), Olympic Park, Dairy Farmers Stadium, Mt Smart Stadium, Gold Coast Stadium (Carrara), Bruce Stadium (Canberra), Energy Australia Stadium, CUA Stadium (Penrith).
The suburban stadiums still give their home side an edge, provided the crowds are decent – the ground is familiar to the players and the vibe will generally give them an advantage of at least 4-6 points. Ideally this is the setup most NRL teams want.
Super Stadiums and Homeless Teams – the worst category for NRL teams (apart from Brisbane) is this kind of home Stadium. Teams such as The Roosters, Bulldogs and Rabbitohs are at a massive disadvantage to all other teams in the NRL. Playing out of massive stadiums (SFS and Telstra) these teams can rarely hear their home fans and are virtually playing on neutral turf every week. Souths understandably were desperate to rebuild Redfern Oval and get their own fortress back; the value is priceless. Sadly for the Canterbury Bulldogs – the chances of them ever getting back to Belmore Oval are non-existent. While it’s been hush, hush – the security risk of holding games at Belmore these days is extreme to severe – virtually impossible to secure and police – Belmore remains a ‘no fly’ zone.
Looking ahead for your NRL team in 2007, let’s hope you don’t have to visit any of NRL fortress ovals (Brooky, OKI or Leichhardt) – the value of the suburban oval is there for all to see; NRL clubs should measure the value in on-field points before they demolish and rebuild.