By Brad Walter
13 February 2012 - Sydney Morning Herald
CANTERBURY officials are hoping to host NRL games at Belmore Oval within two years following the success of yesterday's trial against Sydney Roosters.
While the Bulldogs lost 28-16, the fact 12,000 fans braved a late-afternoon thunderstorm to pack out the club's spiritual home for a pre-season fixture more than made up for the result.
Among them was federal MP Anthony Albanese, who was a guest of the club, and Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg said the club had already broached with him the subject of funding for an upgrade of Belmore Oval.
"As part of our broader plan we would like to bring one or two games a year here," Greenberg said yesterday. "Under our current model, the way Belmore is structured we can't do it. The ground does not comply with the basic regulations but we are talking to the government about another round of funding.
"If it is possible, we would like to play a couple of games per year here. Today we had two federal ministers here, including the Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, as a guest of ours.
"He was really helpful in securing the first round of funding to build our centre of excellence here so if we can get another round of funding in the next round of government grants we would love to do that and play a game here."
Asked to put a time on when he hoped the ground would be able to host an NRL match, Greenberg said: "I'd like to think we could do it in the next two to four years.
"It is not something that will happen this year but four years ago people told me we would never return to Belmore . Today we played a game here and we just recently moved into a centre here which is state of the art, so that is the first stage. Now we are looking at a second and third stage." The Bulldogs deal with ANZ Stadium runs for another decade but the contract allows negotiation over the number of games from the end of next season. However, Greenberg said the club had outgrown Belmore Oval as a regular home ground.
"Our membership is probably going to hit 16,000 this year, it should be 20,000 within the next year or two and there is only 7000 seats here, so it doesn't make sense," Greenberg said.
"But one or two games per year absolutely makes sense, so if we can do that we will. Today was only a trial game but people loved it. It is great for the local community, the local centre of Belmore today was buzzing, so I think the fans had a wonderful day out but we have got to continue to invest in the place to make it an NRL venue."
Roosters coach Brian Smith applauded the Bulldogs for their efforts to stage yesterday's "Return to Belmore " match, which followed an $8.4 million grant from the federal government. "It was a way of letting all of our fans know that we are back in business, so I thought it was great," he said. "It's only a trial game but the AFL get passionate fans who turn up for their pre-season games because they want to see who the next young thing is and I reckon the Dogs did a great job of promoting it."
In the process, Smith may have unearthed the "next young thing" after 18-year-old rookie Tautau Moga laid on the match-winning try for winger Justin Carney. "He can still play two more years in under-20 so I am not sure yet whether to start him off in first grade," Smith said.