NRL News: Tigers in the dark over Leichhardt upgrade, Bennett’s Dolphins pledge after confirming Rabbitohs return


Leichhardt Oval looks set to get a $40 million facelift but doubts remain over whether Wests Tigers will remain at the iconic suburban ground long term.

The joint venture club’s board is set to meet on Monday to discuss plans to install a northern grandstand and upgrade facilities at the inner-west Sydney venue.

Tigers CEO Shane Richardson has confirmed he received a phone call from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last week with the Federal Government pledging $20m for the project with the local council and state government to add $10m each.

The NRL had asked for $30m from the Federal Government but the PM told Richardson that only $20m was on offer and he was hopeful that the state government would up its offer.

Richardson has previously stated that the Tigers could have to vacate Leichhardt Oval at the end of the year after the NSW government refused their request to fund an upgrade.

The Tigers will play five of their 12 home games this season at Leichhardt Oval but have long held concerns for the condition and facilities at the hallowed inner west ground.

Richardson and Inner West Council Mayor Darcy Byrne recently bandied together to request Leichhardt Oval receive 10 per cent of funding allocated to Penrith’s stadium upgrade by the NSW government.

The Panthers’ BlueBet Stadium will receive a $309 million face-lift in 2025 that expands the ground’s capacity to 25,000 with an all-new western grandstand and refurbished eastern grandstand.

The Tigers, who have also hosted home games at CommBank Stadium, Campbelltown Stadium and Accor Stadium in recent years, have yet to commit to any home ground beyond 2024.

Richardson relocated South Sydney’s home games from Moore Park to Homebush during his time in charge of that club. 

This season, the Tigers are playing five of 12 home games at Campbelltown Sports Stadium, one at Scully Park in Tamworth and one at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium as part of Magic Round.

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Sydney FC’s A-League Women side is the only other professional sports team that regularly plays home games at Leichhardt Oval.

Sydney FC do not have a formal agreement to continue playing at Leichhardt beyond this year, but privately is hopeful of staying put in the 2024-25 season and would be in favour of any upgrades to the ground.

The Under 19s State of Origin games are also slated to be played at Leichhardt this winter, as well various other semi-professional soccer and rugby league fixtures.

But upgrades are less pressing for those tenants; the only non-NRL fixture Inner West Council expects to attract more than 7,000 people to Leichhardt this winter is a GPS rugby match between St Joseph’s College and St Ignatius College.

Bennett won’t poach Dolphins for Bunnies return

Wayne Bennett has promised not to raid the Dolphins playing stocks when he coaches South Sydney next year.

The 74-year-old Dolphins mentor is set to sign what is expected to be a three-year deal in the coming days to return to the club he coached from 2019-2021.

The Dolphins have a crop of young players coming though who are shining in the NRL and in lower tiers but Bennett said the club had nothing to fear.

“I won’t be taking any of their kids that they want to keep,” he said.

“That’s not going to happen. I didn’t build this club to try and destroy it.

“If there is a guy that they are not offering a contract to or he is looking to go somewhere else and I think he can play a bit, then that will be a different thing, but I want all these players to stay.”

Bennett said he hadn’t spoken to the Rabbitohs about the players he wanted them to re-sign or recruit.

“I haven’t because I haven’t signed the contract yet,” he said.

“I need to stay focused here and I think I have been pretty good with that.”

Bennett had 18 months to prepare the Dolphins to be NRL-ready when he agreed to coach the side in late 2021.

In contrast, he will be at Rabbitohs pre-season training in six months.

“I’ve moved from a few clubs in my life in the same situation so it is not new to me,” he said.

Wayne Bennett. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

“I am experienced at it and I know how to handle it. The key thing is that everyone knows what is going on. You just get on with life. They have staff down there who will look after everything until I get there.

“Ben Hornby is doing a great job there now (as acting coach) and I will certainly want him on the coaching staff when I get there. It will be an easy transition.”

Bennett is negotiating his own deal and not engaging a third party. He said he “doesn’t have to worry about managers leaking stuff now when you do you your own deal. It’s good.”

His switch has been a saga for the past three weeks.

He told reporters on Sunday night he would put onlookers out of their misery and get the deal signed this week “just for you”.

with AAP

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