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Official Review by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
If you know anything about the geography of the Sydney metropolitan area, the first thing you will notice about this review is that it is of a stadium in Western Sydney, for a team that represents an area just south of the city Central Business District. Indeed the spiritual home of the Rabbitohs is the highly urbanised suburb of Redfern, a mere 3km from the city centre. However, ANZ Stadium is located at Sydney Olympic Park which is at least a 30 minute drive west.
The decision to go west was made for several reasons. Firstly, from 1988 Souths were sharing Allianz Stadium with the Sydney Roosters. While Allianz was a newer and larger venue than the small and undoubtedly outdated Redfern Oval, it was never a great fit for the Bunnies. Financially it also made sense to shift to ANZ, and as a club that is known as “the pride of the league,” the reality is that in modern times many fans live outside the original South Sydney district meaning Olympic Park is more accessible.
South Sydney are one of the most historic and storied teams in the history of rugby league in Australia. They are very well supported both within celebrity circles and the general community all over the country. Despite this, the 1990s and early 2000s were not a happy time for Souths. A lack of on field success and financial instability led to the club being excluded from the NRL for a period of two years under a rationalisation process. They were reinstated after a high profile legal battle and in subsequent years began to rebuild, which included actor Russell Crowe buying into the club. The Rabbitohs finally broke through for a premiership victory in 2014, their first since 1971.
ANZ Stadium was the main stadium of the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics and remains the largest venue in the harbour city. Several NRL clubs currently use ANZ Stadium for the regular season, either in full or in part; Canterbury, Wests Tigers, St George Illawarra Dragons and South Sydney. The majority of major finals and international games for both rugby league and rugby union are played at ANZ.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
This category can be easily summed up as follows; respectable quality and variety but very expensive. The most basic combo of a hot dog (or pie or sausage roll), hot chips and a drink will set you back over $16, a hefty price tag by any measure. Individual hot items include the aforementioned hot dogs ($6.20), sausage rolls ($5.20), meat pies ($5.60), and hot chips ($6.20), as well as pizza ($10.20), burritos ($10) and chicken burgers ($9.20). Also available are sushi ($14.50), sandwiches, baguettes, and salads. Beers aren't cheap either, at $7.90 for a Hahn Super Dry, with wine available at a similar price. Pre mixed spirits are priced at $10.50.
ANZ Stadium is good venue for sport but probably suffers from being designed as multi-purpose. The gradient of ground level seating and the stands is quite gentle leading to the common complaint from fans that they are a long way from the playing field. It is also quite difficult to personalise the stadium for each team, however Souths have red and green in as many places as possible - along with posters of past and current greats. For all intents and purposes, it actually looks like the stadium is permanently there for the Rabbitohs. Lastly, the other downside is that with a capacity of in excess of 80,000, the stadium is unlikely to ever be filled for a regular season game.
Sydney Olympic Park is quite a large area that includes many other venues in addition to hotels, restaurants and bars. There's plenty of food options before or after the game. As well as fast food there are options covering Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian and modern Australian. While that is the case, the precinct doesn't tend to be buzzing except during major events. You should also check the schedule for the Greater Western Sydney Giants (AFL) for the possibility of a doubleheader.
Souths fans are great. They are very knowledgeable, show up in good numbers (average crowds of around 20,000), are passionate and add to the experience. "The Burrow" group have flags, banners and sing numerous witty chants. One of the other things that was impressive on this recent visit was the number of fans on site to support the feeder teams in the curtain raiser. Most of the crowd arrives early or on time at worst, which is fairly unusual for Sydney teams. The atmosphere is also very family friendly, with people of all ages coming together to barrack for their Bunnies.
Sydney Olympic Park is located close to the geographic centre of Sydney, with good transport options. There is normally plenty of parking (P1 is probably the closest), although it is expensive. Also be mindful that if there is a large event(s) on, traffic into the precinct will be an issue. Best to check beforehand, otherwise strongly consider public transport. The train station is a short walk from the stadium. As a large stadium the venue handles crowds well and access inside is fairly smooth.
Ushers are polite and helpful, and also realistic in not being too zealous when enforcing seating allocations. Concourses are wide and bathrooms are plentiful. It is a big stadium so it can be quite a walk if your entry point is on the far side!
A ticket to see the Bunnies at ANZ Stadium is priced comparatively to other clubs that utilise the same venue. Buy online to save some money, and also select your seat. Additional discounts apply for concessions and families. General admission (unreserved) is about $25 for an adult. The GA seats at ANZ are at either end, which is actually quite good quality when judged against most other venues. Just remember that parking and food will not be cheap if you choose to utilise those services.
There was little happening outside the stadium when we attended which was a bit disappointing, but once inside the club used a number of smart initiatives to highlight the home team. Free Wi-Fi is always a bonus, plus the ushers are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable.
In coming years ANZ Stadium will receive a $780m transformation. Commencing in 2018, the stadium will likely become permanently rectangular which will definitely improve the experience - especially for club level football. In the meantime, a Bunnies game at ANZ Stadium offers a great day out.
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