The triumphant return of the rugby league Grand Final to the Sydney Cricket Ground for the first time in 33 years is set to be squashed by the cash-starved NRL.
The NRL has engaged in top-level talks with the NSW Government to shift this year’s grand final from Sydney’s east back to the west in a move that is expected to net a cash-starved game up to $5 million.
The Sydney Cricket Ground had been due to host rugby league’s showpiece event for the first time since 1987.
But moves have begun to keep the game at ANZ Stadium, which would also end Brisbane’s plan to steal the decider from NSW.
The NRL had scheduled the grand final at the SCG because ANZ Stadium was unavailable due to a planned $800 million redevelopment.
With the NSW Government scrapping those plans, the NRL is locked in discussions about remaining at the 83,500-seat ANZ Stadium for the big game.
The SCG holds 48,000 but only 30,000 general admission tickets could be sold at the ground. The remainder would go to members.
There can be 65,000 general admission seats sold at ANZ Stadium.
Those additional 35,000 fans would generate nearly $5 million for the NRL.
A decision on the grand final is yet to be reached and could be determined by crowd restrictions.
The SCG Trust is aware the game is likely to head west.
The State Government is understood to have given preliminary support for the cross-town move because the economic revenue for an NRL grand final is upwards of $26 million.
That figure could be reduced by 40 per cent, and lessen NSW’s tourism opportunities, by having 38,000 fewer fans attend.
Wear-and-tear maintenance problems would need to be urgently addressed at ANZ Stadium before big games could be played at the venue.
The upkeep issues, delayed due to the proposed redevelopment, would now need to be brought forward. One problem would be the drop in standard of the arena’s two big screens.
ANZ Stadium management and the SCG Trust are not formally involved in venue decisions or discussions, which are primarily between the NRL and NSW Government.
Discussions between the NRL and Government over the grand final venue have been described as “delicate”.
The SCG will also be shifting into cricket season by late October.
The grand final was initially scheduled for October 4 at the SCG before the date was pushed back to October 25.
Given the date change, the contract between the NRL and Government over the SCG grand final would appear void. A new agreement for the grand final is being discussed.
A source close to the issue said there was “full expectation of everyone, including the Government” that the grand final would now be played at ANZ Stadium.
NRL matches can operate with a 25 per cent crowd capacity from early next month. That figure should increase as the season progresses, and a capacity crowd is expected at the grand final.
Should the game be confirmed for ANZ Stadium, it would be the 22nd successive grand final played at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.
There could still be a late push for the SCG given its historic links to rugby league.
ANZ Stadium will be ready again for rugby league from round eight, early next month, when 10,000 fans are likely to attend a Bulldogs-Souths game, should the match be shifted from Bankwest Stadium.
Brisbane remains desperate to poach the NRL grand final but that ambitious plan appears dead in the water, for now.
The NRL had an agreement with the Government to play all grand finals in NSW until 2046. That was signed through the Government’s $1.6 billion stadiums strategy.