The North Queensland Cowboys edged out the Cronulla Sharks 32-30 in a 93 minute golden point thriller on Saturday night but the decision to hold the match at PointsBet Stadium has raised some eyebrows.
The opening round of the NRL finals saw matches at suburban grounds in Sydney, including Penrith’s 22,500-seat BluBet Stadium and Cronulla’s 12,500 capacity PointsBet Stadium, which has been reduced from 20,000 as a result of renovations.
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But as happens every season, the questions have been asked as to whether the biggest games of the season should see fans locked out.
By comparison the AFL saw its biggest semi-final attendance under the top-eight system ever when Collingwood hosted Fremantle in front of 90,612 fans at the MCG – almost all of those attending being Magpies supporters.
Earlier in the week, NRL boss Andrew Abdo said there were no plans to alter the stadium policy which allows teams to play at home in the first round of finals before moving to biggest stadiums for week two and three.
Into the semi-finals, the Panthers’ next game will be played at a ground such as Accor Stadium or Commbank Stadium.
However, arguably the most perplexing decision was to play the Sharks’ final against the Cowboys at reduced capacity ground, particularly as it turned out to be one of the games of the season.
On Saturday night, sports reporter Bernie Coen took aim at the decision in a series of tweets.
“Now I love #NRL but if ever the game should be embarrassed it’s tonight
Crowd for #NRLSharksCowboys is 12,500. Meantime at the MCG 90,000 are at Collingwood v Fremantle.”
He responded to CODE Sports’ Daniel Cherny, who posted “Crowd at the MCG is 90,612,” writing: “Crowd at Shark Park 12447”.
Coen added: “People. I know Shark Park is being reno’d and that’s why the crowd is small. I also know it’s embarrassing to play a finals game where only 12500 people can squeeze in. It makes the #NRL look like a schoolboy comp when 90K go to the MCG and one side is from WA!”
Sky News’ Chris Smith also posted: “What an amateur game @nrl remains. A big finals match at a suburban field. One day the code will have real marketing people who get it. Just embarrassing.”
It was a topic of conversation on ABC’s Offsiders on Sunday as well.
Host Kelli Underwood said “the only bad thing about last night was only 12,000 got to witness an absolute classic live.”
ABC’s Corbin Middlemas said while people want to stay in their local areas, “At a certain point you have to get in the car and travel.”
He added: “The NRL has been a bit cheeky by continually asking the State Government for more and more funding for stadiums. They have a couple of beautiful stadiums and they are rarely being used — surely if you are going to erect something like that in your city, you need to the best bang for the buck out of it. You can’t just keep making the argument ‘let’s put another one there, and another one there’, it’s not financially viable or realistic.”
Newscorp’s Jamie Pandaram said teams will always want the home advantage if it’s on offer.
“We see the Cowboys have their first ever grand final qualifier at home in Townsville. I can understand why they would want the home ground advantage. It didn’t work out for Cronulla last night, but I take your point, there were a whole lot of empty at Allianz that could have been filled last night.”