Fate of Allianz, ANZ stadiums set to be announced on Thursday

Change: ANZ Stadium. Picture: AAP Image/Paul Miller
Change: ANZ Stadium. Picture: AAP Image/Paul Miller

Sydney's drawn-out stadium war is expected to come to a head on Thursday when Sports Minister Stuart Ayres asks cabinet for more than $2 billion to knock down and rebuild both ANZ and Allianz stadiums.

The unresolved issue, though, is which will be done first.

Fairfax Media has been told by several stakeholders from both venues that Mr Ayres' preference is for Allianz Stadium at Moore Park to be levelled in October next year with a new $700 million, 45,000-seat stadium built on the existing site with a view to open it in 2020.

ANZ Stadium would be demolished in 2019 to make way for a new $1.2 billion arena with an opening date in 2021.

Because Allianz would take less time to rebuild, that would mean Sydney's two major rectangular stadiums would be out of play at the same time for just one season.

If so, the NRL grand final could then stay in Sydney, returning to its spiritual home at the SCG for one year before returning to ANZ Stadium.

The $2 billion commitment would be a significant increase on the $1.6 billion pledged by former NSW Premier Mike Baird in April last year.

About $350 million of that money has already been allocated to a new 30,000-seat stadium under construction at Parramatta.

But any bold announcement from the government remains shrouded in uncertainty.

The issue of whether it's ANZ or Allianz is politically sensitive for Ayres, who last year was frozen out of setting stadium policy by Baird.

It is understood Ayres is still garnering support from colleagues before deciding which proposal he will take to cabinet on Thursday. He had no comment when approached on Monday.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said in the past ANZ Stadium is the preference – something NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg and several clubs have strongly pushed in recent months.

Greenberg has threatened to take the grand final to other cities if the government does not honour the memorandum of understanding from Baird last April to turn ANZ Stadium into a 70,000-seat rectangular arena.

The government would want a guarantee that rugby league's biggest game of the year was not lost to other states if it pledged more than $2 billion in funding. NRL sources confirmed it would do so if both stadiums were rebuilt.

It comes as St George Illawarra will play five games at WIN Stadium next year, one more than in recent campaigns, as well as a home fixture at Mudgee. 

While the NRL has been the most vocal sport about stadium strategy, there is growing bemusement within the government because of its small crowds in the past few seasons.

Last month, Fairfax Media revealed Channel Nine and Fox Sports had lobbied the government about investing more money into suburban grounds because the sea of empty seats at larger stadiums was a bad look on their broadcasts.

There has been widespread speculation for weeks that the stadium imbroglio was about to come to a conclusion after two years of grandstanding, announcements and leaked artists impressions.

There have been arguments made about the stadiums being redeveloped instead of knocked down, a move described by former NRL chief executive Dave Smith as "putting lipstick on a pig".

Allianz has safety and compliance issues, but is also out of date. The criticism of ANZ is that it is poorly configured for sport played on a rectangular field having being built initially for the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

The all-powerful SCG Trust, which includes influential broadcaster Alan Jones, has been pushing for Allianz to be done first because of concerns the 30-year-old stadium could be left out in the cold if there is a change of government.

NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley, who is the member for Auburn, has said before that he would spend no money on Allianz Stadium if he wins government at the next election in March 2019.

Contingency plans have already been worked out if Allianz Stadium is done first.

A-League premiers Sydney FC would play out of Leichhardt Oval with their marquee matches, such as the local derby with Western Sydney Wanderers, to be played at the SCG.

The Waratahs would divide games between the SCG and the new Parramatta Stadium.

The Sydney Roosters would also play at the SCG, on the Central Coast and potentially interstate.

When ANZ Stadium was being rebuilt, the Bulldogs would play at Parramatta and their long-time home of Belmore Oval.

It remains unclear where South Sydney would play, expressing an interest to play at Parramatta as well as taking matches interstate.

Rebuild: Allianz Stadium. Picture: Narelle Spangher

Rebuild: Allianz Stadium. Picture: Narelle Spangher