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Official Review by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
North Sydney Oval is one of the oldest sporting venues in Australia, being used for cricket as early as 1867. The picturesque ground, just up the hill from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, has a capacity of approximately 20,000. Previously used on the national stage in the NRL by the North Sydney Bears, in the National Soccer League by the Northern Spirit, and as an interstate cricket venue by the NSW Blues, North Sydney Oval is now used as a district level multi-purpose venue. Its current tenants are the Northern Suburbs Rugby Club (Sydney Shute Shield), North Sydney Cricket Club (Sydney Grade Cricket), the Bears (NSW Intrust Super Premiership), and the Rays.
The Sydney Rays compete in the fledging National Rugby Championship (NRC), a competition established by the Australian Rugby Union to provide a bridge from grade rugby to Super Rugby. The club is a consortium of northern Sydney clubs Manly, Warringah, Gordon, and Northern Suburbs. Following a realignment of NSW based teams prior to the 2016 season, which saw the demise of the Sydney Stars, the franchise has been re-badged as the Sydney Rays, and now represents much of the metropolitan area, with the remainder covered by the Western Sydney Rams.
Having previously used Brookvale Oval in season one, the Rays went suburban in season two, splitting their games between the village green at Manly Oval and Pittwater Rugby Park. In 2016 the Rays decided to use the more central North Sydney Oval, while also still playing games at Pittwater.
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You won't find a huge selection here, but a barbeque and bar are always sufficient for this level of rugby. In fact, the smell of sizzling sausages and steaks on the barbie wafting around the ground is very pleasant and most welcome. The canteen is located near the entrance and also stocks snack foods, soft drinks, and coffee. The service is friendly and speedy, and at $4 for a sausage sandwich and $5 for a steak sandwich (either of which can be served with onions and slaw if you wish), the barbeque is definitely worth a visit.
The bar can be found at the top of the Mollie Dive Stand, and stocks a good selection of beverages. Standard beers (Toohey's New, Carlton Draught, VB, and Great Northern) are $6, while Cascade Light is $5.50. Cider and ready to drink bourbon or UDL cost $8, and wine is sold by the bottle ($35) or by the glass ($6). Beers are not on tap, but will be poured into a plastic schooner glass. Soft drinks and bottled water are also available for $3.
The historic charm of North Sydney Oval is obvious. The grandstands are reminiscent of the Members Pavilion and Ladies Stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground . In fact, a number of the stands were actually relocated from the SCG to North Sydney. For example the Bob Stand, named so because it used to cost a 'bob' to gain admission, was moved in the 1980s. The remaining stands are named after various sportspeople and identities such as Duncan Thompson (rugby league), Bill O'Reilly (cricket), Molly Dive (women's cricket), and Charlie Macartney (cricket). The large grass hill is named for larrikin cricketer Doug Walters, while the scoreboard recognises one of the greatest rugby league wingers of all time, Ken Irvine.
The oval is set in St Leonards Park, which has led to one of the large Moreton Bay Fig Trees being inside the ground, where it majestically oversees the action from the northern end of the ground between the Bob Stand and the Molly Dive Stand.
For many years the local council which owns the ground resisted installing floodlights, so night games required temporary lights to be hired. However, nowadays there are five permanent light towers that are more than adequate for night time matches. There has been talk of upgrades in coming years, which may include restoration work to the grandstands, installing a video screen, and utilising drop-in cricket pitch technology, which is an important feature for a multi-use venue looking to increase usage across a number of sports.
North Sydney is a good location in itself with plenty of options for pubs, hotels, cafés, and restaurants. It is also a thriving business district with a large commercial presence. My favourite local watering hole is the Rag and Famish, which has stood since 1860. The Rag is a great local with a large selection of beers on tap, including several craft options and one of the better ranges of dark beers you'll find in Sydney. Another option is the iconic Greenwood Hotel - the Greenwood has always been a trendy place, and was renovated several years ago to further modernise a popular venue. I also recommend The Greens.
One of the great things about this area is that it really is central to much of Sydney. You're literally the span of the Harbour Bridge away from the city and all it has to offer - don't forget to climb the Bridge too.
The Rays draws from district clubs that are well established and well supported. This has translated into a solid fan base for the NRC team; the Rays franchise has consistently been the best-attended club of the NSW based teams. Manly and Warringah have always attracted good local crowds, and with Norths the reigning Shute Shield premiers, expect more input from the Shoremen. A crowd of around 2,000 seems to be the benchmark for the NRC, and the Rays tend to hit that mark fairly frequently, especially on a fine, sunny afternoon, and families are always made to feel welcome.
Take your pick of driving, bus, or train - North Sydney is well placed in terms of access. If you drive, you'll likely end up in a metre spot on the street or in a paid car park, so budget up to around $10 for parking. North Sydney train station is also close by, and so near the CBD that a connection is easy to come by.
Once inside the oval there are nice wide concourses surrounding the playing surface, making circumnavigating the venue a breeze. Bathrooms are a little out of the way but are modern and clean, if a little small. However, with a relatively small crowd this is not an issue.
Adult tickets are $20, which is up slightly from 2015 prices, but the real value is in taking the family because kids are free - great when you're trying to grow the game. There is no need to pre purchase tickets as you simply pay at the gate, so remember to bring cash. The standard of play is high with a number of Super Rugby and Australian rep players on show. This is a good opportunity to get up close and personal with the stars of today and tomorrow, Transportation and refreshments are affordable so make the most of it!
There is a small merchandise stand next to the barbeque, just inside the entry. Despite a small variation, the Rays still boast a unique harlequin style jersey, which in my opinion is a nice change from many modern rugby jerseys. It is also a good amalgam of the local district clubs which combine to make up the franchise.
North Sydney Oval is one of the best venues in Sydney for this level of sport. It has charm and character, and seems a natural fit for the Rays. Bring the family for an affordable day out with some top rugby on display.
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199 Miller St
North Sydney, NSW 2060
(02) 9955 1257
36 Blue St
North Sydney, NSW 2060
(02) 9964 9477
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