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Official Review by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
GIO Stadium Canberra is the major sporting stadium in Australia’s capital city of Canberra. It was originally opened in 1977 as an athletics venue. Several renovations were later conducted, resulting in a permanent rectangular playing surface and the current capacity being set at 25,011 in time for the stadium to host a number of football matches during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Canberra has also been the location of both international rugby league and rugby union matches. There was talk of either a major redevelopment or new stadium in Canberra around Australia’s failed bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Since then cost is likely to prevent any serious developments in the near future.
Currently GIO Stadium is the home ground of both the Canberra Raiders of the NRL and the ACT Brumbies from the Super Rugby competition. The stadium is managed by a department of the ACT government, which also manages Manuka Oval; the premier oval stadium in the capital.
The Canberra Raiders were formed as an expansion team in 1981, signally the beginning of an expansion program that would eventually see rugby league evolve into a national competition. Based out of GIO Stadium since 1990, the club experienced great success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, winning three premierships led by greats such as Mal Meninga, Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart, Brad Clyde and Gary Belcher. Since then the “Green Machine” has struggled to build a truly competitive team.
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".
The stadium is equipped with adequate outlets although not all were open when we attended, and several did not open until close to game time; obviously staggered to allow for reasonable demand and supply. The offerings are largely typical, with prices as expected and average quality.
Hot food includes hot dogs ($6.50), hot chips ($5), sausage roll and sauce ($5), pie and sauce ($5.50), and fish and chips ($9.50). The outlets on the sideline also sell a roast roll ($8), beef burrito ($8.90) chicken burrito ($8.90) and burger ($9). The outlets at either end of the stadium also include pizzas; namely ham and pineapple, meat lovers, and supreme for $8.50.
Drinks available include Carlton brand beer; light ($6.20), mid ($6.40) and full strength ($6.50). Also on offer are white/red wine ($6.50), hard cider ($8.50), and spirits ($10). As is the case at many venues in Australia these days, carry trays are an additional cost; in Canberra $0.80. Soft drinks are Coke branded; soft drinks ($5.20), bottled water 9$4.50), and orange juice ($4.50). Tea and coffee stands are located on either side of the stadium as well.
Pre-packaged food and small non-alcoholic beverages for individual consumption are permitted, although commercial food is not.
Canberra Stadium is an intimate venue with an interesting history. The western stand is named after Raiders legend Mal Meninga, and features statues of both Meninga and Laurie Daley just inside the entrance to the stadium. The eastern stand is named after two Brumbies rugby players; George Gregan and Stephen Larkham.
The stadium is largely a bowl shape, with limited shelter from the elements. During day games the eastern side will be in full sun but keep in mind Canberra can get quite cold in winter. Seats are comfortable and feature cup holders, somewhat unusual for Australia.
There is a medium sized video screen in the north eastern corner of the ground. The Raiders have both cheerleaders, the "Emeralds" and a mascot, Victor the Viking. If you arrive early you will see the Under 20's curtain raiser which finishes roughly 30-40 minutes before the scheduled start time, followed by the warm ups for the main game.
The Raiders have long since adopted the "Green Machine" nickname, a play on their lime-green uniforms. Expect to hear numerous renditions of the team song and a highly parochial ground announcer.
The immediate neighbourhood is somewhat limited to the adjacent Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), training centre for Australia's elite and developing athletes. The surrounding suburb of Bruce also includes the University of Canberra, however is not exactly a thriving hub of entertainment or culinary delights.
This notwithstanding, there are plenty of great things to do and see in Canberra - just not within walking distance of Canberra Stadium. If possible, travelling fans should aim to make a weekend of it and experience the sights of the Australian national capital. This former rural area of NSW was developed into the Australian Capital Territory after debate between Sydney and Melbourne during the time of federation as to which city should be the capital. Canberra was the eventual compromise and now features highly recommended cultural attractions such as the Australian War Memorial (allow several hours at a minimum), old and new parliament house, and the National Gallery.
Canberra also offers potential for a sporting double header, most obviously for the Raiders and Brumbies. Other opportunities to explore include the CBR Brave (ice hockey - AIHL), Canberra United (soccer - W-League) and University of Canberra Capitals (basketball - WNBL). The Greater Western Sydney Giants play occasional AFL games at Manuka Oval while Canberra Racecourse is also relatively close by.
Postgame head to Raiders Belconnen (155 Hardwick Crescent, Belconnen), the licensed leagues club associated with the Raiders. Two other options worth mentioning are the Canberra Labor Club (Chandler St, Belconnen) and for a more rowdy experience with a younger student/defence force cadet crowd, Mooseheads Pub and Nightclub (105 London Circuit, Canberra).
Those on a Stadium Journey requiring accommodation will find a number of motels in the Belconnen area.
Fans of the home team are easy to spot in their distinctive lime-green hats and jerseys. While crowds are not exceptional, there is strong support for the Raiders. The majority of the crowd seems to arrive quite close to kick off, but are in the seat prior to game time. Average crowd numbers are around 9,000-11,000 but most of the lower bowl feels quite full. Expect the fans to be knowledgeable and into the game. The environment is definitely family friendly.
GIO Stadium is accessed via car or bus. Visit the GIO Stadium website for more information on bus transfers. Car parking is located between the AIS and the stadium. At $7 per car, it's very affordable to drive. It's a short walk to the stadium entrance. The suburb of Bruce is north of the city centre and very accessible from anywhere in Canberra. If visiting by car from outside of the ACT, Canberra is between 3-4 hours from Sydney and 6-7 hours from Melbourne. Canberra Airport is a 20 minute drive from the stadium.
Access into and around the stadium is pleasingly easy. There are ushers, however they are difficult to distinguish from regular fans. However, they are friendly and are happy to allow access to different areas for photos. The bathrooms are plentiful, relatively clean, but quite old.
The Raiders at GIO Stadium stacks up well when it comes to cost and return on investment. Access is very well priced both in terms of parking and seating. The most expensive single tickets are in the grandstands and cost $35. You can pick up a great seat at ground level around the halfway mark for only $25. At many other NRL venues, you would be lucky to get a general admission ticket for that price. I recommend pre-booking online and selecting the individual seat you would like.
The Raiders have merchandise stands inside and outside the seating area. As you enter the venue there are several minor fan engagement opportunities, particularly for the children. In addition to the statues mentioned above, there is a plaque commemorating the original opening of the stadium as the National Athletics Centre.
The Raiders offer a pleasant experience at a very competitive price point. Canberra is a great place to visit with much to offer for tourists. Make a weekend of it, and be sure to take in an NRL game at GIO Stadium Canberra.
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Holt, ACT 2615
+61 2 6254 1044
Belconnen, ACT 2617
+61 2 6251 5522
Campbell, ACT 2612
+61 2 6243 4211
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