Loyal fans dudded by NRL amid embarrassing farce for Panthers and Storm clash

NRL fans are blowing up after purchasing tickets to the preliminary final, only to be offered them for free later on.

The Panthers and Storm, pictured here before their NRL preliminary final.
The NRL preliminary final between the Panthers and Storm will be lucky to half-fill Accor Stadium. Image: Getty

NRL fans are blowing up deluxe after purchasing tickets for Friday night's preliminary final only to discover supporters who didn’t buy early are being offered free entry in a bid to half fill Accor Stadium. With the Penrith-Melbourne shootout headed towards a disappointingly low turn-out of fans, the NRL released a range of cut-price giveaways late in the week in a desperate bid to put bums on seats.

Accor Stadium members were sent two-for-one tickets deals while others obtained free entry using online codes to secure passes through booking agencies. It's meant loyal fans who paid up early in the week have been disadvantaged over those who held off, with many out of pocket to the tune of $200 or more.

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One fan posted: "Real pain is paying $80 for your prelim ticket for them to 24 hours later go down to $40 and another 24 hours later become FREE." A crowd that was tracking towards 20,000-25,000 is now expected to get closer to 30,000 thanks to the free promotion – still an embarrassing figure for a big game but better than what it could have been.

An NRL ticket giveaway for the preliminary final between the Panthers and Storm.
The NRL is desperately trying to put bums on seats for the preliminary final between the Panthers and Storm in Sydney. Image: NRL

The late push to get fans to the game comes after Penrith coach Ivan Cleary cheekily urged supporters of other Sydney clubs to get behind his team. "Absolutely. What else would they be doing this weekend?" Cleary answered with a wry grin after being asked if non-Penrith fans should back his side. "Everyone loves the Panthers, don't they?"

Penrith is aiming to become the first side in the NRL era to win three straight titles and Cleary has seen the change success has brought to the area. "When I first got out here over 10 years ago it was definitely different," he said.

"There were a lot of people who supported other teams through second generations or whatever whereas now there's a lot more of this community that support the Penrith Panthers, particularly the kids. They’re the ones you want because it can be ever-lasting.

"That’s been good to see. They get a sense of pride watching their team play well. Our community gets around us and we're super proud of our Panthers community and I know they will be down there following us. They’ve been there all year. The home games have been just insane. We feel that support and appreciate it."

Panthers dismiss 'arrogance' claims as rival fans stay away

Penrith CEO Matt Cameron said he wasn't sure why Sydney-based NRL fans weren't getting on the Panthers bandwagon, considering they're the only NSW team left in contention. The general feeling amongst neutral fans is they'd rather see the Warriors win.

“I wonder if people have misconstrued the boys’ confidence as arrogance,” Cameron told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Having said that, I can assure you that is not the case. You only have to look at the way they engage with fans in the community and after games – I’ve received hundreds of emails from fans praising our players.”

Reads 'NRL Finals 2023' with the cut out images of three players throwing a football - Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary and Reece Walsh, with a backdrop of a football stadium.
Discover more of our NRL Finals coverage.

Penrith legend Greg Alexander also dismissed the notion that Panthers players are arrogant, and said the lack of support from rival fans simply highlights the strong 'tribalism' that exists in the NRL. The Panthers have landed themselves in hot water a number of times over the last few years, most recently when they posted 'Up the Pahs' after beating the Warriors in the first week of the finals - a take-off of the New Zealand club's 'Up the Wahs' catch-cry.

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