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Official Review by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Pirtek Stadium is located in the Central Business District of the major western Sydney city of Parramatta. The stadium opened in 1986 as a replacement for the old Cumberland Oval which previously occupied the site. Until recently known as Parramatta Stadium, the venue has a capacity of 20,741. The major tenants of Pirtek are the Parramatta Eels (NRL) and Western Sydney Wanderers (A-League). International rugby league and rugby union have both been played at this location.
The Greater Sydney Rams are one of three Sydney franchises competing in the new National Rugby Championship (NRC) along with the North Harbour Rays and Sydney Stars, providing a third tier of professional rugby in Australia. The Rams are representative of the “Greater Sydney catchment area,” broadly comprising of players from the Sydney grade rugby clubs of Eastwood, Parramatta, West Harbour, Penrith, and Southern Districts.
The organisation itself is a private company comprising 75% investment from the private sector and 25% from the clubs involved (excluding Eastwood). Interestingly, the Chairman of the Rams is former Australian test cricketer, Greg Dyer, who is also CEO of Parramatta City Council, making Pirtek Stadium a logical choice as the home ground for the new entity.
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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".
The food options here are limited to the staples, which are priced at a premium. Also be mindful that with only one outlet (located under the grandstand) open, there are likely to be queues, especially at halftime. If you are going to eat at the game my suggestion is to go with one of the combo items; hot dog or meat pie, chips and a drink for $14.90 or fish, chips and a drink for $13.90.
Soft drinks (Coke varieties) by themselves are $5.20. Smaller items such as ice creams ($4.80) and chips are also available. A separate outlet behind the stand serves alcoholic beverages with the basics of a beer or a wine costing $6. There is also a coffee cart on site. No EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer at point of sale) is accepted but there are ATMs available should you be running short of cash.
The main connection between the stadium and the community has always been due to the Parramatta Eels. Much of the unique touches are therefore, unsurprisingly, related to the Eels; the statue of Ray Price at the entrance, the naming of the grandstands (Mick Cronin Stand, Ken Thornett Stand, Brett Kenny Terrace and Peter Sterling Terrace), and the general feel of the venue.
Only the western side of the ground (Thornett Stand) is open for the Rams. This means you will have to walk around to the far side of the stadium to gain entry. Seating is general admission, with a choice of ground level or the stand. That being the case, the sun is not a factor for day games - although this means you should bring a jumper if the weather is not stunning.
The stadium is equipped with a video board at the southern end of the ground but it is not utilised for Rams games. Only the basic score is displayed along the bottom ribbon of the screen.
The Rams have done a great job of creating an identity for their club in such a short period of time. There is a mascot and a "sounding of the horn" as the team runs out. The club also prides itself on trying to present a quality game day experience. Expect a crowd of around 1,000, but it will likely sound more than that.
I recommend getting to the ground early; the curtain raiser for each home game is the Pacific World Sevens women's rugby competition which starts two hours prior to kickoff for the main game. Following the women, both teams then warm up on the field.
Parramatta is the second largest CBD in the Sydney basin and the economic capital of Western Sydney. Pirtek Stadium is located within Parramatta Park, a stone's throw from the Parramatta River. Also within the Park is Parramatta Swimming Centre. On the opposite side of the stadium is Parramatta League Club which offers a variety of dining options, bars and entertainment.
There are also plenty of options within walking distance of up to 15 or 20 minutes. Church St, which runs parallel to O'Connell St, offers many different dining options. Two basic suggestions on my part are Harry's Café De Wheels (431 Church St) and Ribs n Rumps (345 Church St). Westfield Parramatta is located at the southern end of Church St and has two food courts and numerous restaurants.
Close by watering holes worth sampling include the Bavarian Bier Café (2-8 Phillip St), Albion Hotel (135 George St) and PJ Gallagher's (74 Church St).
Again, the Rams deserve credit for having developed an identity that fans are already embracing. The Rams already have an official supporters group, known as the Horned Army (@thehornedarmy). Many of the fans on the day we attended were sporting the distinctive and imaginative orange beanies with blue rams horns - kudos to the Rams marketing crew for this one. More so, the club has embraced the diversity of their catchment area and are set on welcoming all potential fans. The Rams have a very family-friendly product with many youngsters in attendance. Their fans are vocal and supportive, and engaged for the entirety of the match. As the NRC grows in popularity, hopefully crowds will continue to build.
Pirtek Stadium is easily accessible by public transport (bus, train or ferry) or private car. There's not a lot of free parking around Parramatta if you choose to drive though. If you're lucky you might get to park in the leagues club, otherwise Westfield offers three hours free parking. Otherwise there are numerous paid lots close by that will cost you around $10.
Once you're in the stadium it's easy to move around given the small crowd, although you are limited to only the western side of the ground. The bathrooms are serviceable, but realistically could use an upgrade.
The Rams charge higher ticket prices than either of the other two Sydney-based franchises. At $25 per adult I can confidently say that this is overpriced. However, there are ample opportunities at this stage to buy a discounted ticket. Firstly, the Rams have been offering free memberships which include access to discounts ($20 adult). There have also been promotions for half priced tickets. At the lower price point, return on investment is reasonable. The standard of rugby is surprisingly good given the limited time frame the teams have had to create combinations and a sense of cohesiveness. The line-ups include a smattering of players with international and Super Rugby experience, which helps solidify the standard.
The Rams receive two bonus points. The first is for the free team sheets offered prior to entry - although the game we attended had the wrong date and round number printed on it. The second is for the marketing efforts of the Rams. Much of the direct marketing for the NRC seems to have been left to the individual franchises. Despite their limited budgets, clever use of social media has helped the Rams create an identity their fans are embracing.
The Rams offer a distinctive match day experience. Rugby fans should get behind the NRC as an opportunity to enjoy good quality rugby well into the spring, with Pirtek Stadium a solid platform to observe this new competition.
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431 Church St
Parramatta, NSW 2150
+61 2 9890 2427
345 Church St
Parramatta, NSW 2150
+61 2 9630 2434
2-8 Phillip St
Parramatta, NSW 2150
+61 2 8836 1400
135 George St
Parramatta, NSW 2150
+61 2 9891 3288
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