In recent years the Waratahs have not been a successful team. Even in 2018, although they have beaten all three other Australian teams, wins against overseas opposition have been rare. This has been reflected in the (low) numbers of people who go to watch at Allianz Stadium. But there is still an appetite for suburban rugby, including the Waratahs taking games around Sydney.
Last year’s Shute Shield grand final between North Sydney and Warringah at North Sydney Oval drew over 16,000 spectators. Earlier in the year both games between beaches rivals Manly and Warringah (three including a semi-final clash) drew over 10,000. 10,000 more watched Manly play reigning premiers Norths at Manly Oval. These were the top drawing games, but all 5 sold out there venue.
Last weekend the Waratahs, who had a potential scheduling clash with the A-League for Allianz, decided to capitalise on the market for suburban rugby in Sydney by taking a game to Brookvale Oval. It was a huge success. The stadium sold out of seats an hour before kick-off, and even general admission (the hill) was packed.
The crowd were into a very tight contest, with Origin style chants of “NEW SOUTH WALES” breaking out when the “home” team were on attack. Even though the Waratahs eventually lost, the crowd showed that suburban rugby crowds can tolerate not getting the result as long as the effort is there and the game is entertaining.
Allianz will be out of action next year, and there is a sense that last weekend was a test to see whether taking games to the suburbs would be successful – an idea that has been mooted for a long time. If so, the Brookie game passed with flying colours. The SCG was also tried against the Reds, but even though it was a classic NSW-QLD derby the atmosphere was poor, and fewer people went.
Expect to see a lot more suburban rugby games played by the Waratahs next year.