It has not taken long for the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles hierarchy to voice their displeasure over the fact their NRL finals clash with the Penrith Panthers was played at Allianz Stadium rather than their traditional home.
Scott Penn labelled the move an “absolute disgrace” and felt his team deserved to be playing at home in Brookvale, in front of their vociferous and vocal fans, rather than being forced to shift everything south to the centre of Sydney where the game played out in front of a small crowd.
A week makes the world of difference
The Sea Eagles belted the Penrith Panthers at Brookvale a week before their finals meeting and were heavy favourites when the pair were flung together again in the first week of the finals. But in a massive boil over, the Panthers turned the tables on their opponents and ran out 22-10 winners, progressing to a sudden-death clash with the Brisbane Broncos next week.
Only 15,408 fans were in attendance for the game, in stark contrast to the Sydney Swans’ AFL Final played next door which jammed 45,000+ into the Sydney Cricket Ground, while the Panthers were well represented by a wave of travelling fans, completely removing any home advantage from Manly. This was a significant difference to the standard atmosphere at Brookvale, where the locals have been known to get boisterous and make for an uncomfortable atmosphere for visiting teams.
Penn, the majority owner of the Sea Eagles, advised he would be making his thoughts known to the NRL today as he argued that clubs such as his should be allowed to host finals matches on their home turf.
“I’m absolutely ropeable. It’s an absolute disgrace,” said Penn, a day after his side’s season ended.
“You cannot have a home final not at your home ground. Let’s pack ’em to the rafters at Lottoland.
“I am more adamant today than I’ve ever been in 10 years as chairman. We would have had an absolutely parochial crowd at Lottoland. We had a dominant crowd (against the Panthers) but why were the Panthers cheerleaders there if it’s our home final?
“It’s not a home final then, it’s just a neutral game. You either have a home final or you don’t. The Roosters had a home final at their home ground, Melbourne had a home final at their home ground and they were huge advantages. Both were decided in the last couple of plays.”
Concerns over the presence of cheerleaders aside, there is some contention amongst fans of the league on whether or not suburban grounds should be considered once the NRL Finals series rolls around.
The case for suburban finals footy
While they are clearly smaller than the likes of the Allianz Stadium or ANZ Stadium, suburban grounds like Brookvale, Pepper Stadium in Penrith and Southern Cross Group Stadium in Cronulla generally offer a far better atmosphere and a more tangible home advantage for teams. This can be crucial in finals footy, with three of the four games over the last weekend being decided by two points or less.
The NRL’s policy is clear and sets in stone that all finals played in Sydney have to be staged at either ANZ Stadium or Allianz Stadium. Clubs based across the suburbs are well aware of the situation and the fact they’ll have to shift to one of two bigger venues should they earn themselves a ‘home’ final. But concerns over low crowd numbers could lead to a review of the policy, something which Penn believes needs to be done.
“We owe it to our fans and our members to make sure that we give them the representation that they deserve,” he said.
Like head coach Trent Barrett, Penn was also angered by the controversial decision to award a Tyrone Peachey a try, claiming it “clearly hit his hand and was propelled forward.” It won’t help the Sea Eagles’ 2017 chances, but maybe this time next year they might be hosting a finals game at Brookvale.
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