NRL stars praise host Sunshine Coast
RUGBY LEAGUE: South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett says he relished his time on the Sunshine Coast and expects bumper crowds to again pack the grounds when the Rabbitohs return to their home away from home next year.
A crowd record of 11,912 cheered on the region's first NRL fixture, between the Rabbitohs and New Zealand Warriors at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Saturday.
It was Souths' first premiership match at Bokarina as part of a three-year partnership with Sunshine Coast Council and Tourism & Events Queensland.
The home side didn't disappoint on their maiden appearance in front of a local sea of red and green, clawing back a 12-point deficit mid-way through the second half to win the match 28-24.
Bennett was not only pleased with the outcome but to bring the game to the region as well.
"The crowd were wonderful today and that's what I love about rugby league. If we can take it outside the cities, the big cities, into these areas they embrace it," he said.
"Everyone here today will come back next year because it was a great game of football at the end of the day from both teams."
Bennett praised the host stadium.
"I knew the other part was built but I didn't realise they'd built this back part here," he said.
"I come here every year and I didn't know it was
here. It's a great facility and it's wonderful."
The Rabbitohs will host a fixture at the stadium again next year and in 2021.
Souths' four-try dynamo Cody Walker had enjoyed the opportunity to play a game in the region.
"It's amazing up here and it's a great part of the world the Sunny Coast and it's awesome to come up here and play," the five-eighth said.
While they lost the contest, New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney said his outfit had relished what was their fourth match in the area.
They'd previously played pre-season games in 2008 (lost against Manly Sea Eagles), 2017 (lost against Melbourne Storm) and 2018 (won against Gold Coast Titans).
"I reckon if you ask the lads they'd be back in a heartbeat," Kearney said.
"We've always enjoyed our time here.
"I thought it was a wonderful crowd and we love it here on the Coast."