The NRL is returning to North Sydney Oval.
The Sun-Herald can reveal the iconic ground will play host to the round 16 Roosters-Warriors clash on July 4, marking the return of first-grade football to the ground after a 15-year hiatus.
The venue was the long-time home of North Sydney Bears and the foundation club will mark the occasion by featuring in the lead-up women’s Harvey Norman Premiership and men’s Canterbury Cup matches.
The Roosters have been displaced since Allianz Stadium was knocked down for reconstruction, prompting them to play the majority of their home games at the neighbouring Sydney Cricket Ground. When the NRL draw was initially released, the venue for their Warriors encounter was marked "TBA" until a suitable destination could be locked in.
While most pundits expected the game to be played at Central Coast Stadium - the premiers are hosting Manly in Gosford in round two - the game will instead make a return to one of the game’s historic suburban grounds. The final details are being locked in and an official announcement is imminent.
It will be the first NRL game at North Sydney Oval since May 1, 2005, when the Warriors earned a 34-16 away win against South Sydney. It's also a homecoming for the Bears, who haven't played there since beating Melbourne 24-20 on August 22, 1999. The unexpected NRL return match will again feature the Warriors and bring top-flight football back to a ground that many pundits believed wouldn’t see it again.
The occasion will be a huge celebration for Bears fans, who will again get to see their teams run out in the traditional red and black colours on their own turf. The Roosters’ decision to return to North Sydney is an indication the NRL powerhouse respects the tradition and history of its feeder team.
All three matches on the day - the 3pm women’s clash between the Bears and Brothers, the 5pm Bears reserve-grade encounter against the Warriors and the NRL blockbuster - will all be shown live on Fox Sports.
The return to North Sydney’s spiritual home will allow the Roosters’ reserves to run onto the same ground and in the same jerseys as those worn by legendary Bears including Ken Irvine, Harold Holder, Greg Florimo, Billy Moore, Jason Taylor, Gary Larson and Mario Fenech.
While the state government has invested $2 billion in redeveloping three big venues - Allianz, ANZ and Bankwest - there still remains a role for boutique grounds in the NRL. Canterbury has taken some of its games back to Belmore Oval, Leichhardt Oval remains one of Wests Tigers’ three homes, while Brookvale, Kogarah and Shark Park remain as a home base for NRL teams despite being in various stages of disrepair.
ARLC chairman Peter V’Landys nominated the upgrading of suburban grounds among his key objectives upon taking up the post.
"Everyone knows my love for tribalism and suburban grounds," V’landys said last October.
"We want suburban grounds and we want to have the must-haves ... all the things customers want. We will be looking very hard at suburban grounds and how do we fund suburban grounds."
The move to North Sydney Oval will also strengthen the claims of the Central Coast Bears in their bid to return to the NRL. The governing body has yet to make a call on the long-term footprint of the game, but the Bears haven’t given up hope of playing some part in an expanded competition.