This week's Forum Seven's article takes a look at the expansion of the game south of the border with the Melbourne Storm set to be gifted a new stadium in 2008. Written by Rabs, it puts a new spin on the overall view of the game
I feel happy to say I am a changed man. I�m no longer bitter and I now see what is rational and in the best interests of rugby league in Australia. I�m sure there are still many, many fans that remain like I was. What I�m talking about is my changed attitude to the existence of the Melbourne Storm rugby league team in the NRL competition. I guess the circumstances for me hating the Storm were ripe and I just couldn�t see what was good for the game. Melbourne comes into the competition and a few short years later South Sydney is booted out. News Limited made the decision on both counts � money and not football tradition ruled. For me the Storm were scum and no one could tell me otherwise. Now it�s time to look forward for the good of rugby league.
�Build it and they will come� - the famous line from the baseball movie �Field of Dreams�. Kevin Costner built his field for the great baseballing ghosts of the past to congregate. With the news that the Melbourne facility Olympic Park is to be upgraded by 2008 to the tune of 100 million dollars, we should finally see decent crowds in Melbourne. This should be the final piece of the puzzle needed to get the average rugby league crowds in Melbourne up to and over 20,000. The 20,000 fully seated stadium will be used by the Storm and the Melbourne soccer team in the A-league comp. It is part of a government development to reconfigure the Olympic Park precinct in a similar fashion to what Sydney has done/is doing with the Homebush Bay area. It will have an option to extend to 25,000, which in my opinion should be done initially.
The Storm is attracting a lot of 8,000ish crowds and this is pathetic when you consider the love of sport Melbourne people have. Success has not been a problem with Melbourne winning a premiership and making the finals 5 times in 7 years of existence. Olympic Park must be the problem and while I have not been inside the facility I have walked past it a few times and it does look outdated. With a decent stadium and the all-important modern corporate facilities that go with it things should finally turn around for the Storm.
There are 2 years until the due date for completion in 2008. The NRL and Storm management need to ensure they are ready for this. Rugby league has already made the first few steps at grass roots level in Victoria. Bayside Secondary College has implemented a rugby league program into their curriculum and are the Victorian representative in the Arrive Alive Cup. The Storm are also starting to get nibbles from believe it or not Aussie Rules clubs to hold coaching clinics for primary school age children. This small beginning has to be followed through on with an aggressive push to get kids interested in rugby league. To back it up the NRL must sort out the farcical free to air TV situation. State of Origin - the game�s showpiece - NSW and QLD have to get past the narrow-minded view that we own it and take a game each year down to Melbourne for the good of rugby league. This will be hard to swallow but we must do it.
There�s still a way to go and the NRL needs to do more especially with the TV situation, however with a lead in of two years they have no excuse really and let�s hope they don�t sit back and wait for everything to fall into place (though I am sure it will eventually, even if they are negligent). The NRL must somehow ensure rugby league at a decent hour on free to air in Melbourne and work with the Storm in getting more grass roots level programs happening. In turn the Storm needs to ensure they continue to have on field success, losing Matt Orford and Steven Bell from their squad is not a good omen but they do still have some very decent and crowd pleasing players in the team. In the end success on the field is what the fans flock to. If they can fulfil this part of the plan I can see them needing that expansion to 25,000 and then some, to cater for what is surely the keenest sport attending market in Australia.
�Build it and they will come�