WITHIN hours of the South Sydney Rabbitohs winning their historic first NRL premiership in 43 years, workers began stripping the Stadium Australia surface bare as part of a $2 million turf replacement program.
After hosting 46 events so far in 2014, including many of the biggest and most memorable sporting contests in the nation, the Stadium surface is to undergo a facelift to have it in pristine condition for the upcoming cricket season and the AFC Asian Cup football tournament in January.
A completely new surface has been growing on a turf farm at Wilberforce in western Sydney for the past four months. The old turf will be sent to two golf courses in the western suburbs.
But before the new surface is laid by HG Sports Turf – the Melbourne-based turf growing company that carried out a similar returfing of the MCG last month – the Stadium Australia surface will be re-levelled and a new irrigation system installed.
The Stadium will stage one of its most popular events – the Monster Jam monster trucks spectacular – on Saturday 18 October, with more than 50,000 fans expected. The Stadium arena undergoes a makeover of monster proportions to accommodate the giant trucks, with a custom-designed dirt track laid down over a plywood floor.
Stadium Australia Head Curator Graeme Logan said the venue was using a break in the events schedule to replace 18,000 square metres of turf from fence to fence, with the turf to be re-laid after the big trucks have come and gone.
“Many people, including NRL legend Brad Fittler, said they had never seen the Stadium surface in better shape on Grand Final day last Sunday,” Logan said. “But this turf replacement program is all about us getting the arena in the best possible shape for a busy summer of sport, including the AFC Asian Cup, and setting us up for a great 2015.”
The curator added that the improvements to the irrigation system would further improve drainage and give the Olympic venue more flexibility with its watering of the Stadium surface.
Logan said Stadium Australia would install its drop-in cricket pitches on Tuesday 21 October in preparation for the T20 international between Australia and South Africa on Sunday 9 November.
The Stadium will also host two Big Bash League T20 games – Sydney Thunder v Brisbane Heat on Sunday 21 December and Thunder against cross-city rivals the Sydney Sixers on Saturday 27 December. The Thunder v Heat game will feature the Big Bash debut of champion South African all-rounder, Jacques Kallis.
The biggest football tournament ever staged in Australia – the AFC Asian Cup – will be held between 9-31 January, with all seven Sydney games, including a semi-final on Australia Day and the tournament Final on Saturday 31 January, to be played at Stadium Australia.
Sydney is the most dynamic sporting city in the world, hosting five professional codes – rugby league, rugby union, AFL, football and cricket – in a highly-competitive market.
“No other city in the world has such a diverse sporting landscape,” said Logan. “And that makes our job at Stadium Australia a little more challenging.
“While many grounds cater for only one sport each season, or at least prioritise one sport, we have the unique challenge of fitting everyone in. We squeeze a lot into our year and we are getting better all the time at meeting these unique demands.”
Sydney’s climate in itself presents a unique challenge, with the natural transition of winter rye to summer couch ensuring there are additional demands on the surface heading into each season.
The Rabbitohs’ famous Grand Final win came in front of 83,833 fans – a new ground record for Stadium Australia in its current configuration. The highest crowd ever recorded at the Stadium was the 114,714 that packed in for the Closing Ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The venue was reconfigured in 2002 and capacity reduced to 83,000, although optional seating is sometimes installed for major events like the NRL Grand Final, pushing total capacity close to 84,000.
Other major events at Stadium Australia this year have included the NSW Blues’ first State of Origin series win in nine years, the NSW Waratahs’ first Super Rugby title win, a visit by Italian football superclub Juventus to play the A-League All Stars, and the Sydney Swans’ stunning Preliminary Final win over North Melbourne.
More than 1.6 million fans – and 2 million visitors – will pass through the gates at Stadium Australia by the end of the calendar year.