Parramatta Eels put on good show but Bankwest Stadium main attraction


Then came Steve Edge, the hooker and captain when the Eels won their three premierships from 1981-83 under supercoach Jack Gibson.

“Best stadium I’ve seen,” Edge said. “It’s a bit different to the old Cumberland Oval when we used to run out through the canteen. All you could smell was burning fat. They wouldn’t change the oil they used for the chips for six months.”

For a moment, all the fractures, fallouts and failures of the past 30 years were pushed aside as the Parramatta family came together to celebrate the arrival of their new $360 million home, Bankwest Stadium.

The players who represent Parramatta’s future didn’t run out through the canteen.

They ran through the Field Club — a section reserved for VIP guests near the entrance of the tunnel — and they didn’t let the occasion get the better of them, beating the Wests Tigers 51-6.

Parramatta won but it was the shiny new stadium, with its near-vertical seating and deafening noise, that stole the show. It’s so nice, I’m thinking of moving in.

With each passing season, rugby league becomes a “TV product”. (Yes, I vomit at the term, too). Soaring TV ratings and plummeting crowd figures reflect it.

While Sydney’s great stadium war effectively ended when Premier Gladys Berejiklian retained government at last month’s state election, officials from all codes believe Bankwest Stadium will be a game-changer.

They hope, in time, it will convince even the most ardent critics of the government’s $2.1 billion upgrade of Sydney’s decaying stadiums what they’ve been missing: genuine world-class facilities that other major cities around the world, and even other states here, have enjoyed for years.

It remains unclear when Allianz and ANZ stadiums will be demolished, rebuilt, refurbished and open for business. But they’re coming.

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What strikes you as soon as you walk into Bankwest Stadium is the steepness of the seating. The legal gradient is 34 degrees, we’re told. These stands sit at a 33.94 per cent incline.

That’s steeper than Suncorp Stadium and, for that reason, you feel closer to the play. They are words I never thought I’d type.

Actually, it’s so steep that clubs have been advised to not sell nosebleed seats to the elderly. The quickly and easily inebriated might consider a lower seat, too. Gravity will eventually win.

What strikes you when the match gets underway is the noise. You hear everything. A kick thudded into the chest of Eels winger Maika Sivo in the second half and you could hear it in the fourth-level press box.

Disappointingly, not all of the 30,000 seats were taken. An official crowd of 29,047 was posted but there were banks of empty seats at each end.

They belonged to members with general admission tickets. If the Eels keep playing as they did against the Tigers, it won’t be long before they are full.

What a view: even the ‘worst’ seats at the new venue feel closer to the play.Credit:NRL Photos

Fullback Clint Gutherson joked before kick-off it won’t matter what stadium they’re playing in if the home side is down 18-0 at halftime. As it turned out, they were up 18-0 after just 23 minutes.

Former Eels backrower — and then chairman — Steve Sharp created history in 1986 when he scored the first try at the new Parramatta Stadium in the Eels’ 36-6 victory over St George.

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Eels halfback Mitchell Moses created history on this afternoon when he raced the best part of 80 metres, outsprinting Tigers five-eighth Josh Reynolds, to score in the corner. He nailed the sideline conversion to underline the point.

New stadiums aside, these are cautiously optimistic days at the Eels. They’re four-and-two and while coach Brad Arthur has a side capable of playing footy in September, there’s also potential for it to go the wrong way.

Arthur is unsigned beyond this year. So, too, are Gutherson and Moses. No decisions on anyone’s future will be made until a mid-season review in June.

In the days before this match, you could hear the nervousness in Arthur’s voice.

“I was pretty nervous,” he said afterwards. “I wasn’t much fun at home today. We haven’t made a habit of performing on the big stage … There was a lot of excitement around the new stadium and the expectation was we needed to win. It was great to get it done. But we can’t expect to just turn up here and win.”

Even losing Tigers coach Michael Maguire had high praise for the new stadium.

“Incredible,” he said. “One of the best things to have happened to rugby league for a long time. A game-changer.”

Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.

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