‘It’d be sad’ to farewell Leichhardt: Tigers’ Papali’i

Jasper Bruce |

Wests Tigers players understand why the fans love Leichhardt Oval.
Wests Tigers players understand why the fans love Leichhardt Oval.

Second-rower Isaiah Papali’i would be sad if Wests Tigers were forced out of Leichhardt Oval after threats from management failed to secure funding for upgrades to the ground.

But Tigers players appear resigned they won’t have a say in whether the club continues hosting games at the hallowed, though admittedly run-down, inner-west venue.

On Tuesday, NSW Premier Chris Minns denied a request from the Tigers and Inner West Council to divert 10 per cent of funding from Penrith’s stadium upgrade to refurbish Leichhardt.

Chief executive Shane Richardson had previously warned the Tigers could move out of Leichhardt, which is hosting five of 12 home games this year, if the club’s pleas went unfulfilled.

The move would mark the end of the Tigers’ 90-year association with the ground, which began hosting Balmain’s first-grades games in 1934.

The Tigers have yet to formally announce whether they will deliver on their threat, made only days after the club scored a 32-6 upset defeat of Cronulla at Leichhardt.

“If it does go, that’d be sad,” Papali’i said.

“It’s got a lot of history and it’s rich. 

“I think a lot of the boys grew up playing a lot of finals footy there. There’s a lot of memories for a lot of boys, and I’m included in that.”

In its current state, Leichhardt does not have enough change rooms to host men’s and women’s double-headers, and often features some of the NRL’s longest queues for food and beverages.

New recruit Jayden Sullivan stayed on the field chatting with Tigers fans for almost half an hour following Saturday’s defeat of the Sharks.

He could see how much Leichhardt meant to the Tigers faithful.

“They were so warm-hearted and easygoing. It was easy to have a conversation with everyone,” he said.

But both Sullivan and Papali’i are happy to play anywhere, and conceded there was little they could do if the Tigers were firm on leaving their spiritual home.

“It’s out of our control,” said Sullivan.

“If I was making the decision for the club, what I’d say would be different to someone else.”

The Tigers will play five home games at Campbelltown Stadium this year, with CommBank and Accor Stadiums two other options for hosting fixtures from 2025 if Leichhardt is off the table.