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Yvonne Sampson pays tribute to rugby league's traditional suburban grounds.

Suburban footy fields are tribal heartlands that delight "no frills" rugby league fans. Spectators crowd together on the hill or in rickety stands, because watching the slow-motion replay on TV just isn't as authentic as being there. 

The sound of the old siren and crowds cheering floods into the local neighbourhood. The players are so close you can nearly touch them, a feeling of familiar magic and atmosphere that is lost in the new state of the art stadia.

It is easy to romanticise the old grounds but let's not forget that the "sardine can" licensed areas, standing in mud and rain, dodgy facilities and no parking can be a nightmare. Nonetheless rugby league would lose its charm if we didn't have grounds like Leichhardt, Jubilee or Brookvale Ovals.

Kogarah in particular has a history in this game that simply cannot be matched.

Raper, Gasnier, Langlands, Provan. Men that have been enshrined on trophies, in statues and immortals lists. They all carved out their legacy at the oval on Jubilee Avenue.

As a fan, migrating slowly with the sea of red and white across the Princes Highway is special. If you're a local you know only the away team supporters are silly enough to take on the never ending line at Sizzler. "Saints Leaguies" is far quicker and better for a meal.

On the hill the Dragons Army sing and drop beer on their Penfolds jerseys that are as old as a good bottle of Grange. But whatever you do, just don't mention the Steelers.

While the 'Phantom Siren' is long gone, there are always a couple of poor imitations and if you're lucky you might see the infamous 'Skull' hanging from a tree in the carpark.

But it's the footy you're there to see.

From the 11-straight premierships of the '50s and '60s, to Benji, Nightingale and Big Georgey Rose, the supporters are as unforgiving as they are passionate.

Over the other side of town Leichhardt Oval is an ornament to the history of grassroots rugby league. But the Tigers are at risk of losing a huge piece of their heritage as the Wests Tigers board debates with Leichhardt Council over the conditions of the ground.

The Tigers are expecting around 12,500 to pack into their iconic inner west battlefield when they host the Raiders on Sunday. Captain Robbie Farah thrives on a full house at Leichhardt saying this week: "The fans are so close you can hear every word they say. When you score it feels like they are on top of you". 

Yes, the dressing rooms might be daggy and the hot water might run out but for Tiger traditionalists, they don't want to play anywhere else.

These grounds hold so much history, but sadly an uncertain future in rugby league.

Tigers players want to stay at Leichhardt

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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