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Australian Turnstiles: Raiders Want New Stadium in Canberra

By Lloyd Rothwell -- April 10, 2017 6:00 PM EDT

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Current Australian Rugby League Head Coach and Canberra Raiders legend, Mal Meninga, has this week called for a new football stadium to be built in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) of Civic. Meninga, who is also the most successful State of Origin coach of all time having won nine of ten series for Queensland, insists a modern venue is needed to provide a fan experience that will draw fans away from their widescreen televisions in their lounge rooms.

The Raiders have called GIO Stadium Canberra home since 1990, a forty-year-old 25,000-seater located next to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). The "Green Machine" share the stadium with the ACT Brumbies, Australia's most successful Super Rugby franchise. Several improvement programs have occurred over the years, but despite this, crowds for both the Raiders and Brumbies have been declining.

The ACT Government recently back flipped on plans to build a new $350m stadium by 2020, noting that without Canberra being granted an expansion A-League license, the project would not be viable. This means the Raiders and Brumbies could be playing at GIO for at least another 10 years, a prospect that Meninga, who also had a brief political career, says will see live sport in the nation's capital unable to compete with the television experience.

He suggests a state-of-the-art boutique stadium should include Wi-Fi and provide a much-improved atmosphere, and is adamant a location closer to the city centre could revitalise the area much in the way the renovated Adelaide Oval has done in South Australia. Meninga has both a statue and grandstand named in his honour at GIO Stadium.

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Fellow National Rugby League (NRL) members, the Wests Tigers, have submitted a plan to transform their training base at Concord Oval into a $50m centre of excellence. Concord was built with the express purpose of becoming the home of rugby union in Sydney; a poor decision that ultimately almost sent the NSW Rugby Union broke with the Waratahs moving back to Moore Park at the start of the professional era. Since then ownership of Concord Oval has reverted back to the local council and has been the subject of various master planning exercises. Despite this, the ground has largely been left to age somewhat ungraciously for a venue that was a key stadium for the 1987 Rugby World Cup.

The Wests Tigers, formed by a merger of the inner-west Balmain and Western Suburbs clubs, uses three home grounds; Leichhardt Oval, Campbelltown Stadium and ANZ Stadium (which they share with South Sydney, St George Illawarra and Canterbury), however largely base their operations and training at the centrally located Concord - described by the Fairfax media as "the worst training facilities in the NRL". Sydney rugby union club West Harbour, and the National Rugby Championship (NRC) Western Sydney Rams also use the stadium - although the Rams are expected to move fulltime to the new Western Sydney Stadium in 2019 following the redevelopment of Pirtek Stadium at Parramatta.

The proposal would see a combination of training, administration and community facilities built to be funded by the Tigers and various levels of government. West Harbour are supportive of the proposal, which will ensure their ongoing tenure at Concord. It is believed that leading sport and recreation design firm dwpIsuters were engaged to produce the concept designs, the same group that has been responsible for several high-profile projects, including the upgrades at Blundstone Arena in Hobart. If approved, construction could commence as early as 2018.

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The Manly Sea Eagles, who recently sold off the naming rights to Brookvale Oval to gaming company Lottoland in the hope of funding a stadium upgrade, have also submitted plans to upgrade their training facility. The Sea Eagles have proposed a Centre of Excellence to be built at Narrabeen on Sydney's northern beaches.

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The International Rugby League Federation has this week announced plans for a Nines World Cup to be staged in 2019. Nines is rugby league's answer to rugby union sevens; a format that has exploded in popularity across the world, culminating with inclusion of both men's and women's sevens at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics - won by Fiji and Australia respectively. Reports state that the international federation has received expressions of interest to host the tournament, with a report to be tabled next month. Furthermore, the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, which will be staged in England, will be a 16-team tournament - an increase of two on the 14 teams competing in the 2017 World Cup later this year in Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea. The 2025 World Cup will be hosted by the USA and Canada - the first ever time it will be staged outside of Australasia and Europe.

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The state of Tasmania continues to push for their own AFL team, with North Melbourne hosting the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Blundstone Arena this weekend, as a part of an ongoing deal that is in place until 2021. The Tasmanian Government sees deals such as this one as vital to increasing tourism during the autumn and winter months, as well as an opportunity for Taswegians to see elite sport in their own state.

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In Davis Cup tennis, Australia and the USA have completed their tie at the Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane, with the Aussies progressing on the back of an impressive performance from the mercurial but fiery Nick Kyrgios. They now progress to the semi-final in September against the winner of Italy versus Belgium. Australia last won the Davis Cup in 2003, when they defeated Spain at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.

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Most ice hockey fans (shout-out to Stadium Journey's resident hockey expert Paul Baker - @PuckmanRI) have been keeping a close eye on the NHL playoff race, however we've been following the 2017 IIHF World Championships. Australia's "Mighty Roos" have been competing in Division II Group A being held in Romania, while New Zealand's "Ice Blacks" have been doing battle in Group B on home ice in Auckland. Both the Aussies and Kiwis have done well, although unfortunately both narrowly missed out on promotion to higher divisions. Later this month the Division I Titles will be staged in Ukraine and the United Kingdom, while in May the top-level Championship takes place in France and Germany. Meanwhile, the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) is now only two weeks away. Hockey fans should also note that the 2017 Ice Hockey Classic is again touring Australia. USA and Canada will play exhibition games at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney on Saturday, June 17 and at Hi-Sense Arena in Melbourne on Saturday, June 24.

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Australia and New Zealand have been doing battle in a five-match series in Wheelchair Rugby in the land of the long white cloud. The Aussie Steelers have dominated the NZ Wheelblacks in enemy territory to claim the Ken Sowden Cup. Australia have dominated the sport in recent years, led by cult hero Ryley Batt, who was rested from the NZ trip to allow some younger players to gain some international experience. Later this year New Zealand will host the Oceania Championships, while Paraguay will host the Americas Championships. In 2018, the next World Championships will take place in Sydney. Most recently, Australia won the gold medal at the 2016 Paralympics with USA claiming silver and Japan bronze. Wheelchair rugby is also known as "murderball," and occasionally "quad rugby."

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Lastly, fans of grassroots rugby union might want to note that on Saturday the Manly Marlins and Sydney University did battle for the 200th time in Shute Shield action at the Village Green, aka Manly Oval. Manly RUFC formed in 1906 while Sydney Uni lay claim to being the oldest rugby club in the world outside of the British Isles having formed in the 1860s. On this occasion, the Marlins ran out winners by 36-10.

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