It was a cool night in Sydney as I made the trek from Central station down south to Woolaware station in Cronulla for the Sharks versus Roosters (Cronulla vs Easts) NRL rugby league match at Points Bet Stadium or Shark Park (or Caltex Field) for the league aficionados.
Taking the train for about $5 one way on the Sutherland line I left the city at about 5pm to travel the hour or so to the closest train station within walking distance to the stadium.
Arriving into Woolaware station just after 6pm, I walked the 15 minutes or so south through unlit suburban Cronulla streets to the stadium with other fans who had made the same journey.
It’s an easy walk to the venue and you can hear the music and see the lights from the distance as you get closer but it’s also very dark along the path of the back streets to the ground so careful on your feet.
The stadium is undergoing construction all around it both for the stadium and for the buildings close by however this didn’t stop the game from being a sell-out with fans flocking to the popular indigenous round game tonight.
This is an old-school venue without the bells and whistles, without the tech, with the lines and bottlenecks but it’s also a ground with soul, community vibes and a charm that is hard to beat. The fans bring the atmosphere and combined with the energy on the hill, the match days here are electric and pumping.
Walking into the venue through the old turnstile hut, we were greeted with a polite welcome and asked if we knew where we were going which is 10/10 for customer service and the fan journey to have someone offer to assist you in my opinion.
Making my way inside I grabbed a beer at the first bar I found which was charging $8.50 for middies but in tinnies and 80c for a cardboard tray. The ability to get an ice-cold tin at the footy seems to be lost in some states’ venues across Australia but in Sydney, it’s great to be able to crack a coldie and take up a view from the hill. It’s relaxed and enjoyable to stand on the grassy hill, strike up a conversation with other fans and take in the action on the field. Retro sharks jerseys were abundant tonight and you could have made about 20 full teams of players in Power’s Brewers retros or Aussie Duct kits.
I walked around the venue a couple of times to soak it all up here, from the smells of hot cinnamon donuts and spicy bratwursts cooking to the sounds of laughter from families and kids rolling down the hill and kicking footies to each other. It’s all just a really positive community vibe out here at Cronulla.
The food and beverages ranged from the standard fare of pies and hot dogs to gourmet bratwursts (standard $12 and double bangers $20!) and buttermilk chicken burgers and crisps for $15.50. There was also ice cream, souvlaki, nachos, and the ever-popular chips on a stick. Prices were standard for footy matches with the main difference being the abundance of local gourmet food truck offerings. Lines were long at times and bottlenecks formed due to the compact size of the venue and narrow concourses however like most venues you can bring in your own snacks and it’s always best to grab food before the match kicks off plus these lines got smaller as the game got underway.
The fan engagement (kids jumping castle) and activations from sponsors (player photo ops and giveaways to fans) as well as the half time entertainment were quality with the indigenous focus for NRL Indigenous Round being a highlight to see Australian country legend Col Hardy perform ‘I am, You Are, We Are Australian’ to a rapturous sing-along and applause from the crowd. The fireworks and music also added to the atmosphere.
A highlight before kick-off was the exceptional welcome to country by a lovely lady whose name I missed on the night. This indigenous elder spoke so beautifully about respect, inclusion and community and summed up so perfectly the basis of the round and also what we can all do to make our country a more respectful and tolerant place to live in.
The Kurranulla Sharks got flogged from the get-go by the Gadigal Roosters in this one-sided match with Easts running out 36-16 winners in a dissapointing night for local fans and a score I didn’t predict and which ruined my tips. All was not lost though as we and many others had a fantastic time at Shark Park with local fans.
The exit home from Shark Park was a brisk 15-minute walk back to the train station at Woolaware and then a 50-minute train ride home to Central station. The only downside was that the toilets were locked at Woolaware station which frustrated some fans and even police who were annoyed that they couldn’t use them.
Overall a quality night out at Cronulla’s home venue of Points Bet/Shark Park stadium with much to enjoy about the fan experience here on a moving indigenous round night.