I think by now we can all agree that they aren’t going to bring back the Bears. While it seemed like a distinct possibility for a while in reality it just isn’t feasible. The Sydney rugby league market is just too packed and the central coast is not far enough away. The league isn’t really ready for a 17th team and other bids have more merit. I personally would love to see a Perth team join the competition, this would not only make the competition truly ‘national’ but also open up a late at night TV timeslot.
So while we have to accept that the Bears won’t be coming back, surely we can get the next best thing: Rugby league games at North Sydney Oval.
Now I’m not talking about a lot of games but I think it would be great to have at least one game a year at the historic ground which has held more first grade rugby league matches than all but two other grounds. I think moving a game here would be financially beneficial to the team hosting as well.
The idea came to me as I drove past the field over the weekend. Seeing the oval brought back some great childhood memories of watching the Bears run around in the late 90’s. Nostalgia alone would be enough to fill the stadium that holds a capacity of 20,000.
Now while it doesn’t really matter who hosts a game there I think South Sydney are the most logical choice. Geographical location suggests Manly could do it but that would seem a bit of bad taste due to the clubs long history of disagreement (in saying that someone did see it a good idea to merge the two clubs). The Rabbitohs are the perfect fit for two reasons; they have a relationship with Norths through the NSW Cup and both are foundation clubs.
One sticking point could prove to be the playing surface and facilities but I think they would be o.k. The oval still hosts regular sport in NSW Cup rugby league, Shute shield rugby and Sheffield Shield cricket, so that ensures the ground is up kept. A-League games are also occasionally played at the ground so it should be up to NRL standard and while the facilities might be a tad uncomfortable, I’m sure the fans wouldn’t mind to see footy played in North Sydney again. With all the stick Brookvale Oval cops, surely it couldn’t be worse than there.
The last premiership game played at the ground was ten years ago when Souths hosted Manly. 14,855 people attended that day which is quite a good crowd when you consider the finishing positions of both those clubs in 2004. Both those teams are powerhouses now so taking that game to North Sydney would potentially lockout thousands of fans. There are though plenty of alternatives. The Rabbitohs could take one of their games against non-Sydney opponents to the venue. These games generally have low attendances and lack atmosphere. I am certain that a game between the Rabbitohs and the Storm on a Sunday afternoon would sell out North Sydney Oval and be one of the spectacles of the year.
The Central Coast Bears bid has pledged to play one game a year at North Sydney Oval, against Manly, but that seems destined to never come to fruition. I think in their absence someone needs to pick up the slack and play a game there themselves.
While we hear responses that the NRL is considering moving games away from suburban grounds, I believe a piece of Sydney rugby league history would die if this were the case. 12,000 fans at ANZ stadium provides no atmosphere and I cringe at the idea of not being able to watch Manly play at Brookie. I suggest we do the opposite and bring professional rugby league back to North Sydney Oval.