Parramatta's encouraging start to the year has prompted officials to investigate the feasibility of shifting their round 19 blockbuster against South Sydney from Pirtek Stadium to ANZ Stadium.
The Eels are committed to Pirtek Stadium and have been working collaboratively with the Wanderers in a bid to upgrade the venue capacity from 20,000 to 32,000. In the interim, they are mindful of not turning away fans from marquee matches, such as the encounter with Souths.
The Rabbitohs already call ANZ Stadium home and the fixture will only be moved if there's a probability that more than 30,000 supporters will attend.
The Eels have been the biggest surprise packet of the season, winning three of their opening five games. Had they not lost a thriller to Manly, they would be on top of the competition table.
There are hopes their rematch with the Roosters on Saturday night will draw a big crowd at Pirtek Stadium, while a A$20 family ticket promotion for their Easter Monday clash with Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium resulted in more than 6000 tickets being snapped up in just four hours.
If a bright start becomes a resurgence, the Eels are likely to play Souths at the larger venue.
"It's something we'll have to look at. I like the whole 'right game, right venue' strategy," said Eels CEO Scott Seward.
"If both clubs are in a position where a large crowd is expected and it's the right thing for the game, we'd have to consider it. You're not going to move the game and give away our home ground advantage unless you could guarantee 30-plus thousand. It's the right thing for the game that we're mature enough to have that discussion. We want to play the game at Parramatta, no doubt about it. But if it's the right thing to get more fans and more bums on seats, you have to consider that opportunity."
After finishing the previous two years with the wooden spoon, talk of selling out Parramatta Stadium would have appeared far fetched at the start of the year. But off-season signings, from coach Brad Arthur to new players Will Hopoate, Nathan Peats, Corey Norman and Manu Ma'u, have raised hopes that the sleeping giant of the west could soon awake.
"That's why we need a 32,000 seat stadium at Parramatta," Seward said. "That would give another 12,000 people an opportunity to watch our footy team play and enjoy the spectacle. These are thought bubbles at the moment but isn't it nice the club is able to have these thoughts again. The Wanderers and us are joined at the hip, we want a 32,000-seat stadium. We're in discussions with Venues NSW and Parramatta City Council at the moment. We are determined to work with every stakeholder to make it happen, which is effectively adding a southern grandstand."
The Eels have 15,462 members on their books, with the goal to reach secure 20,000 by the end of the season. Seward has previously stated the ambition of pushing the 40,000 mark by 2017 a total that would exceed the current capacity of Pirtek Stadium.
The federal government has pledged A$20 million towards an upgrade, but this will only result in a small increase in capacity, as well as upgraded corporate facilities. Another priority for Parramatta is re-signing Tim Mannah. The Eels recently tabled a three-year extension to the co-captain, who is off contract at the end of the season. "He wants to stay, we want to keep him and we'll work something out," Seward said. "He's an important part of our club."
- Sydney Morning Herald
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