All eyes on Brisbane, but NRL grand final still just a dress rehearsal

Not that long ago, an NRL grand final outside of Sydney was almost unthinkable. There was occasional lobbying by the Queensland government to snatch the game from Sydney’s iron grip, but those efforts were inevitably kicked into touch.

What a difference a pandemic makes.

Six years after Sydney hosted a grand final featuring two Queensland teams, Brisbane will host a grand final featuring two Sydney teams.

This weekend’s clash between Souths and Penrith is special for that reason alone, despite the crowd now being cut by 17,000 due to new COVID-19 cases in the city.

The tension of whether south-east Queensland goes into lockdown — potentially interrupting the Suncorp Stadium game as new cases emerge — is almost unbearable for league fans.

But, for authorities, there is also anxiety over whether the city has what it takes to keep hosting major events, let alone the biggest of all, the Olympics, which is coming to Queensland in 2032.

If something goes wrong, it won’t go unnoticed.

Australians love watching grand finals. Our barbecues, birthday parties and weddings are all arranged around them.

Stilt walkers grabbed the attention at the NRL Fan Day in Brisbane King George Square on Thursday.Credit:Tony Moore

Last weekend, 4.1 million watched the Demons beat the Western Bulldogs and make the AFL grand final the most-watched television event of 2021.

Last Sunday’s Penrith victory over the Storm in the preliminary NRL final attracted 1.75 million viewers, making it one of the year’s biggest television audiences.

Add to that Queenslanders’ love affair with football, be it league, Aussie rules, soccer or rugby.

Last October, Brisbane became the first city outside of Melbourne to host an AFL grand final, when COVID-19 robbed Victoria of one of its premier events.

The Queensland capital passed that test.

In June, Townsville hosted the first of 2021 State of Origin clashes when COVID-19 forced its relocation from Melbourne.

Queensland passed that test too, although the Blues’ convincing win hurt.

Townsville’s State of Origin match was a huge success, despite the host state losing the series.

Townsville’s State of Origin match was a huge success, despite the host state losing the series.Credit:Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Queensland has also hosted the Rugby Championship, featuring the Wallabies, All Blacks, South Africa and Argentina, with matches on the Gold Coast this weekend.

The question, as the region prepares to welcome the entire world in 2032, is: What have we learnt along the way?

In just over decade from now, Brisbane will host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“Not since Barcelona in 1992 has an Olympic host been better able to capitalise on hosting a Games,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk reminded everyone in her State of the State address on Thursday.

This month, Ms Palaszczuk will introduce legislation setting up the Brisbane Olympic Games Organising Committee in State Parliament.

“This is a key step forward – and the first of many,” she said.

NRL commissioner Kate Jones has been tipped for an Olympic role.

NRL commissioner Kate Jones has been tipped for an Olympic role.Credit:Jono Searle/Getty Images

The people eventually chosen on that committee — and speculation names dozens, including former Commonwealth Games minister, now NRL commissioner, Kate Jones — have work to do.


Twice this year, football teams have got stuck in traffic travelling between Brisbane and the Gold or Sunshine coast.

Transport links remain the Achilles heel of the Brisbane 2032 organisation effort.

Many eyebrows were raised when the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles needed a police escort after it was delayed by traffic coming down the Bruce Highway from the Sunshine Coast a week ago.

Back in July, both the Brisbane Lions and Richmond were stuck driving from Brisbane to Carrara and had to delay the start time of their July 16 clash by 15 minutes.

This grand final weekend, both teams were back in Brisbane early.

Time runs quickly. The 11 years between now and the Games might seem a long time, but think of this.

It was 11 years ago that Julia Gillard became prime minister. Anna Bligh was Queensland premier, overseeing the south-east’s recovery from the devastating floods. A magnitude 9 earthquake off Japan caused a 15-metre tsunami, with horrific consequences at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. And al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden met his end, courtesy of some Navy SEALs flying in the dead of a Pakistan night.

How quickly a decade passes. Julia Gillard was prime minister in 2011, and Queenslander Wayne Swan was named the world’s best treasurer.

How quickly a decade passes. Julia Gillard was prime minister in 2011, and Queenslander Wayne Swan was named the world’s best treasurer.Credit:Andrew Meares

Over the next 11 years, political differences need to be resolved quickly. The multibillion-dollar City Deal between all levels of government needs to be sorted out as a case in point.

All projects supporting the Games need to be identified, chosen, designed, approved, re-examined, tendered, built and tested.

Decisions on the Gabba upgrade need to made, along with the fast rail proposal after a lukewarm reception so far.

At this stage, the 2032 Games are expected to feature 28 sports played at 21 venues in Brisbane, seven on the Gold Coast and four on the Sunshine Coast.

The winner is Brisbane: The announcement in Tokyo.

The winner is Brisbane: The announcement in Tokyo.Credit:Toru Hanai/Getty Images

Athletes will stay in Games Villages at Hamilton Northshore in Brisbane, possibly at Robina on the Gold Coast and at the new Maroochydore CBD on the Sunshine Coast.

Infrastructure costs are not met by the International Olympic Committee. The Queensland and Australian governments must meet these costs.

Brisbane City Council will help. Its Brisbane Metro megabus project might link to Brisbane Airport with its new international terminal by the time the Olympics roll around.

The Queensland government’s underground Cross River Rail project will better link the coasts and provide improved links to Brisbane sports and entertainment venues, although how much remains a matter of contention.

Transport Minister Mark Bailey said, in the first instance, it would make catching buses and trains to Olympic venues easier.

“Commuters catching the train will be able to get from the CBD to the main Olympics stadium at the Gabba in less than five minutes, or get out of the Roma Street underground and head to the Brisbane Olympics venue that will be built in that precinct for the Games,” Mr Bailey said.

The planned new Roma Street Cross River Rail station.

The planned new Roma Street Cross River Rail station.

Mr Bailey said despite the Olympics pressure, south-east Queensland did not have the congestion problems of similar-sized capital cities.

“Plus, we will enjoy a longer timeframe to build new infrastructure compared to the usual seven-year lead-in period that most cities have,” he said.

The Transport Minister said before the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast the Queensland government was pressured to link Brisbane and the Gold Coast by rail.

“In the end it proved to be entirely unfounded,” he said.

“The event’s transport plan ran very smoothly, and many of the same transport planners that were part of that success will be involved in helping us plan for 2032 as well.”

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