Off the Wall

There must be times when the Victorian Government wonders why it ever reached an agreement with rugby league (and union and soccer) to build the AAMI Stadium which is to be officially opened tonight.

T
he stadium has cost the taxpayers of Victoria around $270 million. Tonight's opening obviously offered political advantage to a state government facing an election in November - or should have!

Two weeks ago the Storm salary cap rort - and the tough penalties imposed by the NRL - really set the cat among the pigeons.

For days, rugby league, which has struggled for a decade to get inside sports page coverage in Melbourne, was suddenly front page news, and back page news in the AFL capital.

The Victorian Premier, John Brumby, was hardly impressed. He was giving the Melbourne Storm the modern home ground News and the NRL have been demanding for years - yet the Storm would be playing their home games without the prospect of earning points, or and this is important, the prospect of a home game or two in the NRL finals series!

Premier Brumby would have been hoping that the time of yesterday's media event with the Kangaroos and Kiwis captains would have given the new stadium the headlines it merits...without any distractions!

But in the aftermath of the Storm salary cap debacle that was unlikely. Comments by the Storm captain, and Kangaroos vice-captain, Cameron Smith, yesterday have most certainly guaranteed that!

The result today will unquestionably not go down well with the Victorian Government - and will infuriate the NRL.

In an effort to placate player concern about the salary cap the NRL indicated that the cap would be increased. But the reported level of the increase - less than $100,000 per club - was always going to fire up the issue.

Cameron Smith has called it an insult and other test players, led by Jarryd Hayne, have taken to the NRL with a very large stick over the issue...and over the allegedly "paltry" payment for test match appearances.

The NRL and the ARL need tonight's game to rate well - and give impetus to international rugby league given the four nations tournament at the end of the season. It also needs to get some favourable publicity for the game after two weeks of some of the worst headlines the game has ever received.

It won't be thanking the test players for their "contribution" yesterday!

Meanwhile, the $270 million investment by the Victorian Government is a stadium to be the home ground of the Storm, the Melbourne Victory & Heart A-League teams and the Melbourne Rebels union team to start up next year, has again taken a back seat.

The best Premier Brumby, and the NRL/ARL can hope for is that tonight's Kangaroos v Kiwis match is worthy of the new stadium, and the capacity crowd that will be in attendance!

A white wash would, to put it bluntly, really rain on the opening parade - not to mention Melbourne's notoriously fickle weather!

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