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Official Review by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Leichhardt Oval is best known as the home of the Balmain Tigers rugby league club, who were based in the venue from 1934 until 2000 when the Tigers merged with Western Suburbs to become the Wests Tigers. The joint venture has continued to play a couple of games each season at Leichhardt, but this arrangement is in doubt after 2015. Leichhardt is a picturesque venue located in a diverse and interesting part of Sydney.
The Sydney Stars were formed for the relaunch of the National Rugby Championship (NRC) in 2014. The Stars are one of three Sydney-based teams along with the Greater Sydney Rams and North Harbour Rays, and the only one playing at the same venue as in the inaugural season. The NRC provides a level of professional rugby below the Super Rugby competition.
The Stars are a joint venture between Sydney grade rugby powerhouse, Sydney University, and suburban club, Balmain. Sydney University are the oldest and most successful rugby club in Australia. Despite a lean patch through the 1980s and early 1990s, including a stint in the Sydney 2nd Division, Uni has rebounded to once again become a dominant force in Australian club rugby. The original incarnation of Balmain was also formed in the 19th century. After a merger with Glebe they eventually changed their name to Drummoyne. However, Balmain has re-emerged in their own right in recent years as one of the stronger NSW “Subbies” clubs. Both clubs are well known for being ambitious and hungry for success.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There's a food van in the south western corner of the ground, next to the Keith Barnes Stand. Offerings are largely the basics including meat pies, sausage rolls, hot dogs, hot chips and the like. Prices are about average, with the staples approximately $5 and $8 for nuggets and chips, or fish and chips. Soft drinks are $4 and cans of Carlton Draught cost $6.
You're not going to get a gourmet meal here but that's ok; grab a beer and a pie, and head for the hill to enjoy a lazy sunny afternoon of rugby!
Rugby league fans long for the old days and traditional Sunday afternoon football at suburban grounds like Leichhardt. However the modern reality is that Leichhardt is aging quickly and not particularly gracefully, and is a nightmare to get in and out of with any crowd larger than 10,000. But... this is not rugby league. The charm of Leichhardt Oval in springtime is ideally enjoyed for NRC rugby and the Sydney Stars.
Leichhardt Oval is in the inner-west of Sydney; a diverse and interesting area full of pubs, cafes and restaurants. The Oval is located in parkland on the foreshore of Iron Cove; an inlet where Sydney Harbour becomes Parramatta River, and is surrounded by trees. The number two oval and an aquatic centre lie between the main ground and the water itself, but if you walk the long way around to the entry gates you will be treated to some nice views.
There are two grandstands, concourse seating and a large hill. The main stand runs along the western side of the ground and contains the amenities and players' dressing rooms. Known as the Latchem Robinson Stand, named for a former Balmain Tigers player, this stand is shaded and can be a little cool if there's a breeze blowing. Opened in 1980, this is also the most modern section of the ground.
The Keith Barnes Stand is awkwardly placed off centre at the southern end of the ground, but at over 100 years old is an important reminder of the heritage of this facility. In a quirk of history, the stand was built in 1913 with the playing field running east-west at the time. The ground was officially opened as the Tigers home ground in 1934. The grandstand was named after Barnes, another Tigers stalwart, in 2009.
There is concourse seating at ground level around the majority of the oval. The western side seating is quite square and uncomfortable, the corners are orange and black benches (Tigers colours), and bucket seats on the eastern side. The hill on the eastern side of the ground is huge, and plenty of fans enjoy the sun and open spaces. Families with children will love this area as the kids are free to roam and play as they wish.
There is an old school scoreboard at the back of the hill. This part of Sydney is under the flight path for Sydney Airport so planes regularly fly overhead on their final approach. The line markings on the playing surface for rugby league are still visible and the goal area is quite small for rugby union, although this doesn't detract much from the experience.
In most cases there will be a curtain raiser, after you'll see the two teams for the main game warming up on the ground.
Leichhardt Oval is actually located in Lilyfield, but Leichhardt itself and the surrounding suburbs of Balmain and Annandale is a hub of restaurants, cafes and pubs. Leichhardt particularly is known for its Italian restaurants. Norton Street is the obvious place to head, as you can take your pick of any number of quality eateries.
The Annandale Hotel has a storied place in Australian music history and is a great choice for drinks and entertainment. In the opposite direction lie Rozelle and Balmain. If you head down Darling St you will find a plethora of quality restaurants, bars, and pubs.
The area is also centrally located close to the Sydney Central Business District, giving visitors many more options in terms of entertainment, food and beverage, and accommodations.
The Stars have quite a limited catchment for rugby fans, likely related to their feeder clubs; Sydney Uni and Balmain are niche clubs which aren't necessarily attractive to the broader community. They attract up to 1,000 for a home game, but to put that in context, the North Harbour Rays recently set a new NRC crowd record of over 3,000 for one of their home games. The crowds are fairly laidback and casual, with many families enjoying the spring sunshine. There's not much in the way of Stars merchandise and fans are supportive without being boisterous.
With a big crowd Leichhardt is one of the worst venues in Sydney to get to, but this is null and void for a Stars game. There's plenty of parking on the western side of the oval, across the road from the entrance. Additionally there is more than enough parking in the surrounding streets to make driving an easy option. If you're after public transport buses are probably your best option. The inner-west is serviced by trains and ferries but realistically require a bus connection anyway. There are bathrooms under the main stand which are large but old. If you're on the hill there are demountables which are a little cramped.
Stars games at Leichhardt Oval are well priced, with adult entry only $15, under 18's $10 and under 12's free. There are limited additional costs to taint your experience with no paid parking and food costs reasonable, albeit for a limited selection. The Stars provide a great opportunity to see a famous old Sydney stadium without the pain associated with a big crowd. Take the family and enjoy a sunny spring afternoon on the hill.
Two extra points are awarded for the free team sheets and the jumping castle on the hill for the kids.
Leichhardt Oval is a venue worth visiting for a relaxing and pleasant match day atmosphere. Hopefully the Stars will continue to build their identity which will only add to the experience.
Member Review by lloydrothwell on Sep 23, 2014
Leichhardt Oval has a capacity of 22,000 and opened in 1934. It is best known as the home to the Balmain Tigers rugby league club. The Tigers merged with Western Suburbs in 2000 to become the Wests Tigers who now compete in the NRL. The joint venture plays their home games at a number of different venues across Sydney, still returning to Leichhardt in the inner-west several times a year.
The Sydney Stars are one of three Sydney franchises competing in the new National Rugby Championship (NRC) along with the Greater Sydney Rams and North Harbour Rays, providing a third tier of professional rugby in Australia. The Stars are a joint venture between Sydney grade rugby powerhouse, Sydney University, and suburban club, Balmain.
Sydney University are the oldest and most successful rugby club in Australia. Despite a lean patch through the 1980s and early 1990s, including a stint in the Sydney 2nd Division, Uni has rebounded to once again become the dominant force in Australian club rugby. The original incarnation of Balmain was also formed in the 19th century. After a merger with Glebe they eventually changed their name to Drummoyne. However, Balmain has re-emerged in their own right in recent years as one of the stronger NSW “Subbies” clubs. Both clubs are well known for being ambitious and hungry for success.
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