Leichhardt Oval set to become NRL bubble venue
Iconic suburban ground Leichhardt Oval is set to become one of the Sydney venues to host NRL competition games in the isolation bubble.
The Daily Telegraph can confirm Leichhardt is strongly favoured to join the likes of Parramatta's Bankwest Stadium as one of the regular locations for games being played without fans and limited support staff during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Balmain-based venue is popular with broadcasters as its sprawling green hill is preferred as a background compared with the empty seats of big-capacity venues such as ANZ Stadium.
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Much-loved Leichhardt Oval has already proven its worth as a lockdown venue after it successfully hosted two games in round two prior to the NRL's shutdown in late March.
The Sydney Roosters versus Manly and Newcastle versus Wests Tigers fixtures were a hit despite being played in front of no fans.
Wests Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe has welcomed the prospect of Leichhardt hosting games inside the bubble this season.
"Obviously, we'd love for all of our home grounds to be used but, if given the chance, we'd certainly love for Leichhardt to be available," Pascoe told The Daily Telegraph.
"Just like Campbelltown, Leichhardt has played a huge part in the history of our club, so it'd be very special for our players to play there in this time."
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Wests Tigers legend Dene Halatau, who made his debut for the Tigers at Leichhardt in 2003 and played his final NRL game there in 2016, loves the concept.
"Sunday afternoon at Leichhardt was always my favourite venue to play at," Halatau said.
"You look out from the players' enclosure and see the hill bathed in sunlight. It is pretty special.
"I also played at Leichhardt in the lower grades quite a bit, so I know what it is like without a crowd there and it still feels the same."
The regular use of Leichhardt Oval comes as both South Sydney and Canterbury-Bankstown have indicated they want to take home games to Redfern and Belmore Ovals, respectively.
League Central has supported the idea.
Shortly before he walked out, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg told clubs his preference was for them to play out of their own home grounds - which included boutique stadiums - rather than staging multiple games at a single venue.
However, before any venue is signed off to host games, clubs have been told they would first need to pass an assessment from biosecurity experts - who would then address what, if any, problems need to be sorted before games are allowed.
Clubs have also been told that should crowds return with social-distancing measures in place, the NRL is keen to play games at venues capable of creating an atmosphere for those in attendance. Central Coast Stadium has been mentioned as an example.
Originally published as Leichhardt Oval set to become NRL bubble venue