Benji’s plea to save Leichhardt Oval

NRL Rd 12 - Wests Tigers v Cowboys
There are fears Leichhardt Oval will stop hosting NRL matches by the end of the 2025 season if urgent funding isn’t secured to fix the famous ground. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

Wests Tigers legend Benji Marshall will “stay in his lane” and focus on coaching the team ahead of his side’s match against the Sharks, but he hopes the club can urgently pull together the funding needed to save Leichhardt Oval with fears the ground could be scrapped as an NRL venue by the end of next year.

Reports suggest the Inner West Council, which controls Leichhardt Oval, views the historic venue as an occupational health and safety risk which is why they’re looking to close it to professional sport by the end of 2025, although lower-grade matches would still be played there under the proposal.

Funding has been discussed by the state government in the past, but politicians, the NRL and private investors need to come up with the cash now to save the stadium.

Leichhardt Oval is one of rugby league’s most cherished suburban grounds, but it does have its flaws with lengthy queues for food, drinks and to get to the toilet.

As spectacular as the atmosphere on the hill is, some of the facilities are dated, with a section of a stand collapsing in 2022 during a high school rugby match.

Marshall has enjoyed some incredible memories at Leichhardt Oval, including snapping the winning field goal against the Sharks 12 years ago, and he says the spiritual inner-west home means everything to past and present players.

NRL Rd 2 - Wests Tigers v Knights
Benji Marshall doesn’t want to see Leichhardt Oval lost to rugby league. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

“Leichhardt has a great meaning to a lot of us, especially the ones that have been around since day dot,” he said, with upgrades estimated anywhere up to $50 million required to ensure it is still used for premier fixtures going forward.

“We love playing here, we love having our home games here, and hopefully we can find some money to fix it up.

“I just need to stay in my lane and worry about coaching. That’s not my job (to pitch to the government). We’ve got a lot of people here who can do that.

“But on the footy side of things, coming here with a packed out crowd, there aren’t many better feelings. Campbelltown is very similar, but we love playing here.”

The Tigers have been rather nomadic in recent years, with home matches taken to several venues across the country, but they play the first of five games at Leichhardt Oval this season on Saturday, with a major change in the halves.

Veteran Aidan Sezer has been promoted to the starting side after Jayden Sullivan struggled in the loss to the Raiders, with the former Canberra halfback to offer more structure to help their rusty attack.

Aidan Sezer will make his first start for the Wests Tigers. Picture: Supplied
Aidan Sezer will make his first start for the Wests Tigers. Picture: Supplied

“We just thought it was best for the team this week,” Marshall said, revealing Sullivan handled the demotion to the bench well.

“Each week we select the best 17 that we think can beat the team that we’re playing. We like Aidan’s leadership and what he brings on the field. We’re looking forward to him doing his job tomorrow night.

“We brought Aidan here for a reason and that was to give us a bit of leadership on the field and to guide us around the field, and that’s what we expect from him.”

Sezer will also continue to mentor teenager Lachie Galvin who ran the ball well on debut and has been buzzing around at training ahead of his second stern test.

“We’ve seen what he can do on the field, but off the field we just love the kid that he is because he’s really easy to work with and has a really good learning mindset and wants to learn every day,” his coach said.

“This week I’ve actually seen a more steely focus. The initial excitement of getting your debut out of the way is one thing, but when you’re in the team again, you’ve got to back it up.”