Why NRL can't afford to lose Leichhardt Oval amid calls to ditch Wests Tigers ground

There have been calls for the NRL to stop approving matches at the iconic suburban ground.

I once covered a game at Leichhardt Oval with my feet in the air to avoid stale urine while using a phone torch so I could see my keyboard as a drunken fan attempted to pour a beer over a colleague who'd bagged the Tigers. And I was one of the lucky ones.

The majority of fans at the so-called eighth wonder of the world don’t get it as good. An old media mate – the Daily Telegraph's Brent Read – earned the ire of the Tiger before Saturday's emotional win over the Sharks by declaring Leichhardt Oval was no longer fit for purpose.

Under the provocative headline "Eighth blunder of the world – the Wests Tigers must ditch this eyesore", Ready, not unreasonably, argued the ground is not fit to host NRL matches in its current condition. "The only wonder is how the ground keeps getting the green light to host elite rugby league," he wrote. "Its day has come and long gone."

Benji Marshall and Wests Tigers players after they beat Cronulla at Leichhardt Oval.
Benji Marshall got his first win as an NRL coach after the Wests Tigers beat Cronulla at Leichhardt Oval. Image: Getty/Fox League

It seems the local council agrees, with reports it will be forced to shut the gates on Leichhardt by the end of next year if some serious coin is not thrown into major improvements. But you know what? Give the Tigers fans a team that is willing to have a dig and they don't give a damn if the toilets are blocked, the beer queue runs to Lithgow, there's only enough parking for three unicycles and the hill resembles a human sardine tin.

They know what they’re in for before they fork out their dough. It’s two hours of discomfort in exchange for the chance to be part of the best atmosphere in the NRL.

Wests Tigers fans, pictured here on the hill at Leichhardt Oval.
Wests Tigers fans on the hill at Leichhardt Oval.

Evan rival NRL fans flock to games at Leichhardt Oval

Rival supporters circle games at Leichhardt Oval, cramming the nearby pubs before kick-off before proudly wearing their club colours onto the hill and drinking it all in. Sure, Leichhardt's amenities do need a serious upgrade and the council isn’t wrong in suggesting the clock is ticking.


And the modern stadiums are terrific, especially if you prefer a seat instead of a patch of grass and an unimpeded view of the action. But the scenes from Saturday night, when 16,000 punters jammed into Leichhardt Oval to witness Benji Marshall's first win as a NRL coach, are priceless.

Rugby league's affinity and history with suburban grounds is a big point of difference against the other codes. It's one the game can’t afford to lose.