No end in sight for Warriors stadium impasse

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014

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If anyone thought the Auckland stadiums debate was over now the Warriors have announced they want to remain at Mt Smart, they should think again.

After trialling Eden Park with three games this season, the Warriors last week said they want to remain at Mt Smart. They also want Regional Facilities Auckland to upgrade the venue, but the RFA, which is part of Auckland Council, still hopes the Warriors will move to Eden Park from 2016.

There is a contract between the RFA and the Warriors for the team to play their games at Mt Smart until 2018 and it would need both parties to agree for it to be torn up.

The RFA and Warriors have wildly differing views on where things stand. The club's co-owner Eric Watson says the RFA needs to improve the standard of the tired looking Mt Smart, but the RFA don't want to.

''We've stated to the council over the last few years that they have a contractual obligation to maintain the standard to NRL level,'' Watson said.

''We would argue right now that the stadium is not at the level it needs to be and that the council needs to immediately work on a plan to upgrade Mt Smart and commit funds to doing so. And they need to get on with it.

''For the Warriors to do well it needs a properly established and maintained stadium at a sports and an audience level.

''They need to get on with that now the decision has been made and they're obliged to do that contractually.''

However, Robert Domm, the CEO of the RFA says the money isn't there to get Mt Smart up to the level the Warriors want it at and he's still hoping that club make Eden Park their permanent home from 2016.

''The funding we've got over the next four years, the remainder of the Warriors contract, enables us to maintain the stadium to an acceptable NRL standard,'' Domm said.

''An acceptable NRL standard probably falls short of what the Warriors would like it to be, because they've given us a list of things to upgrade it to an international stadium standard, with 30,000 seats and we don't have any funding to do that.

So it seems likely many Warriors fans will have to continue watching their team in poor facilities. The Warriors want to remain at Mt Smart beyond when their current contract runs out in 2018, with the club feeling it's the best venue for their supporters.

''It's still a great venue,'' said Warriors CEO, Wayne Scurrah.

''But when you look underneath the surface and see things like the temporary seating, the old food caravans, the portaloos, and the media facilities, clearly they have to be brought up to standard and they're things that need to be looked at.

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''I think we're at a point now where the NRL wouldn't consider it for finals games.

''We now have to talk to the council about what they're going to do to bring it up to the standard it needs to be at to host NRL games.

''That's part of the agreement that's in place already, but it's important for us about what does it look like in terms of longer term potential as well.''

The RFA's long-term goal is to move cricket to Western Springs, take the speedway out of there, move it to Mt Smart and have the Warriors at Eden Park.

Of course, the RFA could make the Warriors homeless in 2018, but Domm says they don't want to get to that situation.

''It's not going to come to that, the parties will deal with it professionally. We've got four years and that's a lot of time. Next year they'll play at Mt Smart and we'll be engaging in discussions throughout the course of this year and next.

''The simple fact of the matter is that at Mt Smart you're only going to be able to average 16,000 people per game over a season, with the best will in the world.

''The NRL strategy is to see a minimum of 20,000 people per game, so if the Warriors want to succeed and grow the game, Mt Smart doesn't do it for them.''

- Sunday Star Times

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