Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Warriors safe but Eden Park shakey

With the Warriors staying at Mt Smart, the elephant in the Auckland stadiums room is the biggest of them all
Warriors will  stay at Mt Smart Stadium until at least 2028. Photo / Dean Purcell
Warriors will stay at Mt Smart Stadium until at least 2028. Photo / Dean Purcell

Sanity has prevailed in the Auckland stadiums debate. The confirmation yesterday that the Warriors will stay at Mt Smart Stadium until at least 2028 was a tonic for the club and the sport, after more than two years of uncertainty regarding their home.

A permanent shift to Eden Park was promoted by Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) in 2012, followed by a subsequent suggestion that a move to Albany Stadium would be the ideal solution. That bizarre idea was almost rubber-stamped by the council last June, before intensive lobbying convinced them to hit pause.

That stay of execution - and extensive consultation by new RFA CEO Chris Brooks - resulted in a change of heart, revealed by the Herald on Sunday in December last year.

"We have been engaging widely with stakeholders and those connected with our stadium facilities and listening to their needs," said Brooks. "We have always said this process may lead us to reconsider aspects of the strategy."

However, yesterday's news only feels like the first chapter of the stadiums roundabaout and many more questions remain.

Where is the future home of speedway? What is the long-term strategy around Eden Park? What will happen to Albany Stadium? Will a downtown stadium come back on the agenda?

Answers will emerge, but it seems almost certain speedway will be moved from Western Springs. The RFA has agreed an extension on speedway's current lease until 2019, which gives both parties breathing space, but the council body sees cricket, AFL and baseball as the future of the Springs.

"We need to find speedway an appropriate long-term home," said Brooks, adding that the resource management constraints at the central Auckland venue were untenable.

Speedway spokesman Greg Mosen said he "didn't see any better alternatives" than staying at Western Springs but added that "we are realists, we know that life brings about change".

Colin Dale Park in Manukau is one of the prominent options at this stage, though Brooks said they were a long way from confirming anything.

Eden Park is a more vexed issue, as it is still massively underused and weighed down by huge debt. There are no major tournaments after the 2017 Rugby League World Cup and it's doubtful this country will host the Rugby or Cricket World Cups in the medium-term future.

The rationale behind the RFA pushing the Warriors to Eden Park was to boost its finances. Now that's off the table, what happens next, especially if Auckland loses the NRL Nines and international cricket matches are moved to Western Springs? Eden Park could become the white elephant critics of the Rugby World Cup redevelopment proposal always feared.

QBE Stadium will remain a hub for New Zealand Football - when the All Whites finally get back on the field - and is also home to North Harbour rugby, though their attendances have been poor for years. It is expected to host an All Blacks test in 2017.

But it seems inevitable that a central city rectangular stadium will come back on to the agenda, at least in terms of a discussion document, with both the Warriors and RFA open to exploring options in the long term.

But for now, the Warriors and their fan base can look forward at least another decade at Mt Smart.

The Penrose venue is far from the worst in the NRL - despite what detractors might claim - but does need some work.

Warriors chief executive Jim Doyle said the new agreement includes an undertaking to significantly upgrade the stadium and its facilities.

"This will include replacement seating, refurbishment of the dressing room facilities and a community classroom, while the agreement also allows for replacement floodlights, a new big screen and a facelift for various areas of the stadium," said Doyle.

- NZ Herald

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