Infotainment Factory: Why Rabs won't miss Allianz Stadium

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Friday, 21 September 2018

Why Rabs won't miss Allianz Stadium


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As the bulldozers prepare to move in and demolish the Sydney Football Stadium after 30 years as one of the city’s premier sporting venues, there’s been plenty of reminiscing about the great moments that have occurred over the years at the iconic venue.

But one of those who won’t be shedding any tears when the ground is flattened is Nine commentator Ray Warren.

The broadcasting icon has spent the best part of three decades making the long trek to the very top of the western grandstand, an adventure he definitely won’t miss.

“It was quite funny really, they built the commentary boxes up where the pigeons are, as high as you can possibly get, but there’s no lift that takes you all the way,” Warren tells Wide World of Sports with a laugh.

“You have to take the stairs, which was fine when I was younger, but after all these years of going there I sort of feel like Edmund Hillary.

“Myself and Phil Gould need to make sure we get there in plenty of time because it takes us half an hour to recover, we’d be no chance if we had to go to air straight away.

“It’s been a privilege to see so many fantastic moments at the ground, but I certainly won’t be sad that I never have to see those stairs again!”

Some of the moments Warren mentions are among the most iconic of the last 30 years.

“People often ask me if I recall the great moments I’ve called and I always mention Mark Coyne’s try in the first State of Origin game of the 1994 series because everyone seems to want to ask me about it,” Warren says.

“It was an incredible Queensland try, and yet another time Queensland managed a last minute miracle.

“It went through so many pairs of hands before finishing up with Mark. At that level it’s the best try I’ve ever seen.”

While the ground only played host to 11 rugby league grand finals, some of those will be mentioned for as long as rugby league is played.

“Many people think the 1989 grand final was the best ever,” Warren says.

“I had the pleasure of calling Brisbane’s premierships in 1992-93 which was the last time a team has gone back-to-back in a unified competition. They were a super team.

“And towards the end we had Darren Albert’s try that gave Newcastle their first ever title in 1997, which is a moment I’ll never forget.”

That 1997 decider that saw Newcastle edge out Manly thanks to a try in the final seconds is a day that will never be forgotten by Knights fans, nor by Andrew Johns, who set up the match-winning four-pointer.

“If there's one day I could relive over and over and over again, it's got to be this one,” Johns said.

This is bigger than a game: Johns remembers the 1997 decider

“The last 30 seconds, I can't really remember. But Darren Albert goes over underneath the posts, all hell breaks loose in the stadium, all hell breaks loose in Newcastle and we get a moment that will live on forever.”

But it wasn’t just rugby league that held the spotlight at the Sydney Football Stadium. In 1994, a try-saving tackle by a young George Gregan not only won the Bledisloe Cup for Australia, it turned the 21-year-old into one of the most recognisable faces in the country.

Gregan went on to become Australia’s most capped player ever, taking the field 139 times over 14 seasons, but ask any rugby follower to name one moment from his career at the top level and his tackle on New Zealand’s Jeff Wilson is never far away.

The south-western corner of the Sydney Football Stadium was kind to another rugby international, Michael O’Connor, in 1991.

O’Connor, who played for the Wallabies before switching to rugby league in 1983, found himself with a conversion attempt from the sideline in driving rain to win a State of Origin match for New South Wales.

With just two minutes remaining, O’Connor’s successful kick sent the crowd of 41,000 into raptures, and although 27 years have passed, Queensland captain Wally Lewis still feels the pain of that night.

O'Connor's match winning conversion

“It was extraordinary, as soon as the try was scored I felt sick in the stomach, because I knew he was going to kick it,” Lewis told Wide World of Sports.

“It was a great kick because of the conditions, it was very wet, and it wasn’t the preferred side of the ground for a right foot kicker.

“When you watch the replay of it you can see my head go down as soon as the ball leaves the boot. I knew it was going through.”

Remarkably O’Connor’s match-winning conversion wasn’t the most memorable moment of that night.

Nearly an hour earlier, a Mark Geyer forearm to the head of Queensland’s Steve Walters on the stroke of half-time sparked an all-in brawl, and as referee David Manson cautioned both Geyer and Lewis, the pair went toe-to-toe in a fierce exchange that’s replayed every year at Origin time.

“He wasn’t about to take a backward step, he’d been told exactly what was required of him on the field,” Lewis said.

“We’ve spoken about it since then and he apologised to me, but I told him he had nothing to apologise for. You never apologise for what you do on the field, you’re out there to win a game for your state.

“It’s an indication of the level you’re prepared to go to, in order to win an Origin game.”

Two years earlier the Sydney Football Stadium played host to one of the gutsiest performances seen at Origin level, as an injury ravaged Maroons side held on for a 16-12 victory in the second game of the 1989 series.

“It’s head and shoulders above any other performance by a Queensland side, and that’s saying something,” Lewis says.

State of Origin: Mark Geyer v Wally Lewis

“I’ll go so far as to say it was the bravest display I’ve seen from any football side. We actually finished with 12 men because of injuries.”

The Queensland dressing room resembled a hospital ward in the immediate aftermath of the game. Allan Langer suffered a broken leg, Mal Meninga was nursing a fractured eye-socket, Paul Vautin had dislocated his elbow, Michael Hancock’s shoulder was gone, and amongst all of the carnage Bob Lindner displayed tremendous courage to play on with a fractured ankle, before finally succumbing shortly before full-time.

“As captain I was barking orders to him, thinking it was a just a bump,” says Lewis.

“We didn’t know that he’d broken his ankle!”

In just a few months the grandstands that witnessed these, and many other, famous moments will be reduced to rubble, and construction will commence next year on a $729 million replacement stadium on the same site at Moore Park.

For the sake of Ray Warren, let’s just hope three-quarters of a billion dollars is enough to pay for a lift to the commentary boxes.

As the bulldozers prepare to move in and demolish the Sydney Football Stadium after 30 years as one of the city’s premier sporting venues, there’s been plenty of reminiscing about the great moments that have occurred over the years at the iconic venue.

But one of those who won’t be shedding any tears when the ground is flattened is Nine commentator Ray Warren.

The broadcasting icon has spent the best part of three decades making the long trek to the very top of the western grandstand, an adventure he definitely won’t miss.

“It was quite funny really, they built the commentary boxes up where the pigeons are, as high as you can possibly get, but there’s no lift that takes you all the way,” Warren tells Wide World of Sports with a laugh.

“You have to take the stairs, which was fine when I was younger, but after all these years of going there I sort of feel like Edmund Hillary.

“Myself and Phil Gould need to make sure we get there in plenty of time because it takes us half an hour to recover, we’d be no chance if we had to go to air straight away.

“It’s been a privilege to see so many fantastic moments at the ground, but I certainly won’t be sad that I never have to see those stairs again!”

Some of the moments Warren mentions are among the most iconic of the last 30 years.

“People often ask me if I recall the great moments I’ve called and I always mention Mark Coyne’s try in the first State of Origin game of the 1994 series because everyone seems to want to ask me about it,” Warren says.

“It was an incredible Queensland try, and yet another time Queensland managed a last minute miracle.

“It went through so many pairs of hands before finishing up with Mark. At that level it’s the best try I’ve ever seen.”

While the ground only played host to 11 rugby league grand finals, some of those will be mentioned for as long as rugby league is played.

“Many people think the 1989 grand final was the best ever,” Warren says.

“I had the pleasure of calling Brisbane’s premierships in 1992-93 which was the last time a team has gone back-to-back in a unified competition. They were a super team.

“And towards the end we had Darren Albert’s try that gave Newcastle their first ever title in 1997, which is a moment I’ll never forget.”

That 1997 decider that saw Newcastle edge out Manly thanks to a try in the final seconds is a day that will never be forgotten by Knights fans, nor by Andrew Johns, who set up the match-winning four-pointer.

“If there's one day I could relive over and over and over again, it's got to be this one,” Johns said.

This is bigger than a game: Johns remembers the 1997 decider

“The last 30 seconds, I can't really remember. But Darren Albert goes over underneath the posts, all hell breaks loose in the stadium, all hell breaks loose in Newcastle and we get a moment that will live on forever.”

But it wasn’t just rugby league that held the spotlight at the Sydney Football Stadium. In 1994, a try-saving tackle by a young George Gregan not only won the Bledisloe Cup for Australia, it turned the 21-year-old into one of the most recognisable faces in the country.

Gregan went on to become Australia’s most capped player ever, taking the field 139 times over 14 seasons, but ask any rugby follower to name one moment from his career at the top level and his tackle on New Zealand’s Jeff Wilson is never far away.

The south-western corner of the Sydney Football Stadium was kind to another rugby international, Michael O’Connor, in 1991.

O’Connor, who played for the Wallabies before switching to rugby league in 1983, found himself with a conversion attempt from the sideline in driving rain to win a State of Origin match for New South Wales.

With just two minutes remaining, O’Connor’s successful kick sent the crowd of 41,000 into raptures, and although 27 years have passed, Queensland captain Wally Lewis still feels the pain of that night.

O'Connor's match winning conversion

“It was extraordinary, as soon as the try was scored I felt sick in the stomach, because I knew he was going to kick it,” Lewis told Wide World of Sports.

“It was a great kick because of the conditions, it was very wet, and it wasn’t the preferred side of the ground for a right foot kicker.

“When you watch the replay of it you can see my head go down as soon as the ball leaves the boot. I knew it was going through.”

Remarkably O’Connor’s match-winning conversion wasn’t the most memorable moment of that night.

Nearly an hour earlier, a Mark Geyer forearm to the head of Queensland’s Steve Walters on the stroke of half-time sparked an all-in brawl, and as referee David Manson cautioned both Geyer and Lewis, the pair went toe-to-toe in a fierce exchange that’s replayed every year at Origin time.

“He wasn’t about to take a backward step, he’d been told exactly what was required of him on the field,” Lewis said.

“We’ve spoken about it since then and he apologised to me, but I told him he had nothing to apologise for. You never apologise for what you do on the field, you’re out there to win a game for your state.

“It’s an indication of the level you’re prepared to go to, in order to win an Origin game.”

Two years earlier the Sydney Football Stadium played host to one of the gutsiest performances seen at Origin level, as an injury ravaged Maroons side held on for a 16-12 victory in the second game of the 1989 series.

“It’s head and shoulders above any other performance by a Queensland side, and that’s saying something,” Lewis says.

State of Origin: Mark Geyer v Wally Lewis

“I’ll go so far as to say it was the bravest display I’ve seen from any football side. We actually finished with 12 men because of injuries.”

The Queensland dressing room resembled a hospital ward in the immediate aftermath of the game. Allan Langer suffered a broken leg, Mal Meninga was nursing a fractured eye-socket, Paul Vautin had dislocated his elbow, Michael Hancock’s shoulder was gone, and amongst all of the carnage Bob Lindner displayed tremendous courage to play on with a fractured ankle, before finally succumbing shortly before full-time.

“As captain I was barking orders to him, thinking it was a just a bump,” says Lewis.

“We didn’t know that he’d broken his ankle!”

In just a few months the grandstands that witnessed these, and many other, famous moments will be reduced to rubble, and construction will commence next year on a $729 million replacement stadium on the same site at Moore Park.

For the sake of Ray Warren, let’s just hope three-quarters of a billion dollars is enough to pay for a lift to the commentary boxes.

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