Pearce throws support behind local grounds

ARL commissioner Wayne Pearce hopes suburban grounds such as Leichhardt Oval live on in rugby league as the NRL prepare for D-Day over their big stadium policy.

Balmain great Pearce is set to be immortalised at Leichhardt with the hill at the historic ground to be renamed in his honour.

The NRL has until Friday to meet the state government’s criteria for a $1.6 million investment in Parramatta Stadium, ANZ Stadium and Moore Park.

The government is asking for a guarantee that 65 games will be played at the big stadiums every year, including State of Origins, finals and the grand final.

The NRL must convince several clubs, including Manly and Cronulla, to take games to Allianz Stadium if the investment in the three grounds is to go ahead.

With the push to move games to bigger grounds, there are fears smaller grounds could disappear with less funding on the table.

The Tigers currently play three games out of Leichhardt and Pearce said he hoped that commitment remained.

“You’re not going to play every game here but I’d like to think you’d play some games here like they do at the moment,” Pearce said.

Pearce has a long history with Leichhardt, dating back to selling hot dogs at the ground as a child before captaining Balmain during their glory years in the late 1980s and coaching the club from 1994-99 as well as the Wests Tigers in the joint venture’s maiden year in 2000.

His final game as a player at the ground, against Manly in 1990, is well remembered by the Balmain faithful who lined the hill to throw streamers at him as he did a lap of honour.

Leichhardt had its last major upgrade 42 years ago and has been criticised for its facilities but Pearce said plenty had changed at the venue.

“There’s an old stand missing from there, it got taken down because it got infected by white ants and termites,” Pearce said.

“The hill’s extended around further by another 30 metres. It’s been upgraded believe it or not, the bucket seats weren’t in those days.

“And there were terraces without timber seats on them. There were just concrete terraces way back in the early days when it first opened back in 1974.”

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