Manly Eager For Long-term Association With Christchurch
Tony Smith – The Press
The Manly Sea Eagles have committed to playing a National Rugby League home game in Christchurch for the next two years – but are looking at a “10-year-plus” relationship.
Manly chief executive Neil Bare – flanked by Christchurch-born Sea Eagles star Lewis Brown – confirmed the deal at a press conference at Christchurch’s AMI Stadium on Tuesday.
The Sea Eagles – winners of eight first-grade titles – hope to play an early season game at AMI Stadium in 2018 – possibly against the Warriors although the NRL draw is yet to be finalised – and another in the 2019 season with an option for 2020.
The deal came about after a phone call by Manly’s player welfare officer Quentin Pongia to his former Linwood Keas and Canterbury rugby league teammate Justin Wallace, now a Christchurch sports promoter, who brought the Penrith Panthers to Christchurch in 2016.
Bare said Manly were the “second-most supported NRL club in New Zealand behind the Warriors – and were looking to build a support base in Christchurch.
“We see the first three years really as just the start of a long-term relationship. We want to be here for more than 10 years and we want to be a real partner for the city in terms of its redevelopment and rebuild.
“As well, we see it as an important football pathway and development for the club. That’s what attracted us to it.
“It’s great to be able to bring [NRL] rugby league back to Christchurch. When the opportunity came up, we jumped at it.”
Brown said it was “really exciting for me to be able to bring my club back here and play where it all began for me”.
“It’s ironic that in 2010 I came back here with the Warriors for my first game in Christchurch at the old stadium [in Phillipstown] but next year I get to come back and play at what I believe is the heart of rugby league in Christchurch – the old Rugby League Park or Addington Showgrounds.
“I first came here as a four-year-old ballboy. This is where my dreams begun to play in the NRL. To be able come back and play here with my club and play in the NRL is going to awesome.
“It’s going to be awesome for the junior clubs to have two professional teams in town and awesome for the city… hopefully it’s going to create some more pathways for younger kids that want to become NRL stars in the future.”
The Penrith Panthers game attracted a capacity 17,669 crowd and Wallace and Vbase chief executive Darren Burden are hopeful of another bumper attendance for the Manly matches.
“The excitement of the NRL game last year was absolutely fantastic, we had a sell-out crowd, so from a Vbase and city council perspective, we’re absolutely delighted we’ve got yet another NRL game coming back to the city.”
Burden said Manly’s commitment would help make up for Christchurch missing out on All Blacks rugby union tests for the next three years.
“Having a NRL game, partnering with Manly, fills a bit of that gap.”
He said it could be possible to extend AMI Stadium’s capacity “to add another four thousand seats ” if “ticket sales go through the roof”.
Bare said Manly average close to 11,000 fans for home games at their Brookvale Oval base so they could, potentially get “50 per cent above our average” in Christchurch.
They are committed to playing another home game in Perth next season and one in Brisbane as part of a NRL double-header which draws a sell-out crowd at the 60,000-seat Suncorp Stadium.
He said Manly had a good record on the road and could play in any conditions. “We’ve played the Warriors in Perth for the last two years in nothing short of a monsoon and we were able to get the win.”
Manly – nicknamed the Silvertails – have a long-established Kiwi connection stretching back to former Kiwis prop Mark Broadhurst’s two-year stint in the early 1980s.
Bare – who has been coming to Christchurch for 30 years to visit a branch of a family business – said Manly became hugely popular in New Zealand in the early 1990s with former Kiwis mentor Graham Lowe as coach and with Kiwis stars Matthew Ridge, Kevin and Tony Iro and Darrell Williams in their ranks.
He saw only “upside” in coming to Christchurch, “which has a long rugby league tradition and has always supported NRL games that have come to the region”.