Wests Tigers
Wests Tigers may not get to celebrate many more wins at storied Leichhardt Oval. Image by Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

NSW government denies Tigers’ Leichhardt funding plea

March 26, 2024

Wests Tigers may have to deliver on their promise 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.

On Monday, Tigers chief executive Shane Richardson and Inner West Council Mayor Darcy Byrne bandied together to request Leichhardt Oval receive 10 per cent of funding allocated to Penrith’s stadium upgrade by the NSW government.

Wests Tigers
 The love that Tigers fans have for Leichhardt may not be enough to save it as an NRL venue. Image by Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS 

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 threatened to move the Tigers out of Leichhardt altogether if the request went unfulfilled, having relocated South Sydney’s home games from Moore Park to Homebush during his time in charge of that club. 

But on Tuesday, NSW Premier Chris Minns pointed to the state’s financial situation as grounds for blocking the Tigers’ audacious request.

“I appreciate that (the Tigers) have got to make a decision about their club and where they play their home games,” Minns said.

“But we, as everybody knows, have got $180 billion worth of debt in NSW.

“We’ve got massive pressure on the hospital system, education system, (and) in addition to that we’re rolling out the biggest public transport projects in the state’s history.”

Chris Minns
 Chris Minns says the NSW government won’t stump up more cash for a revamp of Leichhardt Oval. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

Leichhardt Oval’s status as a part-time NRL venue also influenced Minns’ decision.

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.

“I don’t have spare dollars at the moment to pump into Leichhardt Oval, particularly as the Tigers’ games are split between those two home grounds (Campbelltown and Leichhardt),” Minns said.

“My real fear is that we put money into Leichhardt and the week afterwards they say now we need the money for Campbelltown.

“These things have got to be finely balanced and I’d love to have the spare revenue to pump into a suburban stadium at the moment, but I don’t have it.”

Asked about Richardson’s pleas to the Minns government, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary defended the allocation of funding to Penrith’s stadium.

“Everyone is scrambling for political money,” he said.

“We’ve had to work long and hard for ours and we’re happy to have it (an upgraded stadium), and our community deserve it.

“I’m not saying their (community) doesn’t either. What I do know is I got the feeling at Leichhardt that everyone there loves it the way it is. Maybe they should keep it that way.”

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

AAP understands Sydney FC does 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.