On Sunday morning at 2am I left Brisbane to head down to Sydney for the NRL Grand Final between Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels at Accor Stadium in Homebush, Sydney.
Leaving home at 3am I hit Brisbane Airport, parked the car and excitedly boarded my 5am flight to Sydney to head to an NRL Grand Final, my first GF since 2018 at the Olympic Stadium.
In the lead up to the big event I produced a match day fact sheet for my fellow NRL fans which went down a hit in our NRL community. I miss match day programs so tried to make it reminiscent of Big League Magazine (RIP) to have a physical keepsake from the big day.
I hit Sydney by 8am taking into account day-light savings time and made my way to my hotel, stopping to check the front covers of the local papers all promoting the major event.
By 12pm I was making my way out to the venue and here is a run down on the day from my fan experience and fan journey perspective.
My fan journey from Central Station to Olympic Park and the game at Accor Stadium could not have been quicker or more seamless. Free travel on public transport was included with every ticket and the journey out to the venue from Central via train took under 25 minutes. From there it was such a simple walk to the venue fan precinct and entry gates. It’s always very accessible and it was good also to see the colourful NRL team bunting and presentation at Central Station and Olympic Park Station which added to the atmosphere. Staff were helpful and eager to engage with both sets of fans to ensure they all had a good day.
Unfortunately I was unable to take the gorgeous old cab or Routemaster bus out to the game but don’t they just look outstanding!
It pays to be an NRL member. I purchased my ticket as soon as NRL members tickets went on sale. I was able to get a discount, buy first and choose where I wanted to sit. I was surprised members got a further discount which was nice to see. I purchased the cheapest tickets I could at $49 which I thought was a bargain. Many fans on social jokingly said my seat was rubbish however I beg to differ. We were front and centre with a birds eye view. Not every fan can afford to go or be close to the action and this price point was all that I could afford anyway. Entry through the gates was seamless and efficient however I did go through very early in the day so had no troubles scanning in. Bag searches were conducted and a hello and smile along with eye contact was received on entry as well which was pleasant to see.
Fan Zone/Fan Engagement:
The fan precinct was absolutely pumping when I arrived after midday with fans of both teams as well as neutral rugby league fans like myself all having a wonderful, fun, safe time together at the bars and within the outside fan zone area.
The bars were going off with live music, DJ’s and beers flowing with the sun out and the atmosphere sparkling with positivity from the fans. It was such a fun vibe and moment to be in.
The merchandise tents were doing a roaring trade with special event tees and hats as well as Penrith and Parramatta gear selling like hot cakes at the multiple merchandise sites around the venue.
The fan engagement and event presentation was top notch and included loads of fun activations for kids, families and fans of all ages such as:
- pass the ball
- face painting
- photo opportunities (NRL Steeden ball/NRLW)
- size me up
- colouring in
- trophy photos
- virtual kick and photo activations
Everyone was having such a brilliant time in the fan zone with the lines moving really well throughout the two hours I spent going from activity to activation….obviously, didn’t do the face painting or colouring in but I can see how much fun my daughter will have when I bring her down for a grand final in a few years time.
The event presentation looked impressive with colourful lighting, banners and bunting throughout the venue and surrounds. There was also plenty of food truck gourmet options outside the ground as well as astro turfed areas, roving entertainers (the 70’s disco crew on stilts- they were outstanding!), craft beer bars and plenty of spaces to sit and take in the festivities.
After I had my fun in the fan zone I headed into the venue and up the ramp to my seats in section 606. I forgot how steep this venue gets and you really have to pace yourself, especially if carrying a tray of beers so I was glad I had my weetbix in the morning as when I made it to my seat I was able to take in my impressive view of the ground. For $50 I was very impressed with my seat purchase and settled in for a while with a cold bevvie to take in the NRL State Championship (Penrith defeated Norths Devils 44-10), NRLW Grand Final (Newcastle won 32-12 over Parramatta) and then the pre-game entertainment before the main match.
It was outstanding to be a part of a new Australian crowd record for the NRL Women’s competition as close to 43,000 fans set this record to watch the Grand Final. Well done to everyone for being inside the venue to watch this moment.
When I went down to get a beer and pie at 6pm the lines were unfortunately really bad with up to 100m of people waiting in lines in both directions and no real line management or idea for fans of where lines started or ended or went for food or drinks so I unfortunately gave up and didn’t get to eat anything at the venue and only bought the one beer in the end. This was probably the most disappointing thing about the fan experience as I love nothing more than getting a pie and a beer but it was just too busy and after 20 minutes in a line that wasn’t moving I decided to give up. The venue staff however should be commended because I saw how hard they were working for fans and they were smiling and being positive. It’s always hard for a venue when at capacity to service every fan efficiently and we have to remember that venues are still getting back into their groove post COVID too so while it was disappointing to not be able to get F&B I can also understand the challenges.
Beers were $10.50-10.90 and included Stone and Wood craft beer. I wasn’t able to see more of the food on show but I heard there was a special event day burger which sounded good!
Being a huge Cold Chisel fan I was really excited for Jimmy Barnes to be performing as part of the pre-game show and he was absolutely brilliant bringing all the hits and having fans rocking out to the classics. The other performers were equally impressive and the Welcome to Country and National Anthem were also big highlights with the Indigenous man doing the WTC doing such a fine job talking about respect.
The crowd singalong’s of fan favourites like ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Horses’ were quite funny to see while the multiple on field sponsor fan engagement activations at half time were run smoothly and provided some laughs. I feel for the ladies kicking the goals in that competition, it’s bloody hard in the footwear that fans bring to a game not realising how oily the turf is!
The pitch invader that ran on and tried to scale the posts was brilliantly nabbed by security and venue staff and ushered off the field. Thankfully this idiot will now be fined and banned and did not cause any player injuries. Well done to the venue staff here for quickly sorting this out. These people don’t belong in our NRL community.
Once the game was over with Penrith winning 28-12 over Parramatta we made our way back down the ramp and out to the train station to head back into the city. Transport home could not have been more easy and seamless with the lines moving fast and free transport making it simple to get home and end the night safely. I will add that when I asked a cabbie how much it was to get to the city he remarked $150 and told me the meter was off. Very dodgy behaviour and not what fans expect or deserve to see for the fan experience. No sooner had I told him that was ridiculous and unfair for fans, he was swarmed by transport cops or transit enforcement officers (unsure who they were) who heard me talking to him and ordered him to pull over however he did not want to and continued trying to drive away which was quite dangerous as it was packed with fans around him. I commend these officers because they saw that this was wrong and not what fans expect from transport companies.
I had such a fun day participating in all the activations, catching up with the NRL community and just being back at the venue for the first time in a few years.
Fantastic event presentation, fan journey, #FanEngagement, fan atmosphere and entertainment. Seamless free travel on public transport, craft beers, food trucks, happy, positive and helpful staff and a brilliant loud atmosphere all made for an epic day.
Well done Penrith Panthers and Newcastle Knights and Parramatta Eels National Rugby League Club fans too.