NSW Rugby League hierarchy has welcomed the development of a new centre of excellence at Olympic Park which they hope will fine-tune not only the preparation of the senior Origin squad but boost all the development pathways from under-16s and up, as well as the NSW women's rugby league system.
NSW Minister for Sport Stuart Ayres turned the first sod on the development, adjacent to ANZ Stadium, on Wednesday morning with state coach Laurie Daley and senior player Aaron Woods plus NSW women's captain Ruan Sims, NSWRL chairman Dr George Peponis and CEO Dave Trodden on hand for the ceremony.
The $20 million facility, 50 per cent funded by the State Government, is something Ayres said he is proud to have been involved with.
"It's a fantastic investment in sport across NSW. Rugby league players across communities now have a centre they can come to really enhance their performance," Ayres said.
"We know that if we want to see our State of Origin team perform year in year out we've got to embed that high performance culture right from junior sport all the way through to the top. This is what this facility is about doing."
All of the state's junior rugby league academy programs will come through the centre as well as refereeing programs and volunteer support programs, Ayres added.
"The NSWRL demonstrated to the State Government that there was a need for a state-wide facility that was not just focused on the State of Origin team," Ayres said of the NSWRL's pitch to get support for the centre.
"It's about making sure the NSWRL had the capacity of a facility which could influence rugby league right across the state. They didn't have that.
"They put together some pretty detailed work about how they thought this facility could have that positive influence. It stacked up pretty well financially for us."
Daley said the centre had been "a long time coming".
"It's a very significant step for us. It gives us the best chance to prepare really well. You get the state-of-the-art facilities, you're training at home and not only the Origin team but our junior pathways, our women's team," Daley said.
"They get a great opportunity to see how professional athletes go about their business and you give them every chance of success. You have no excuses. It's really exciting because it'll be one of the great facilities here in Australia."
Daley said he expected the players to be "blown away" once they saw the finished product, with the oval to be completed by the end of this year and the centre itself by the end of 2017.
While he praised the facilities and experiences over the past three years at the Pacific Bay Resort at Coffs Harbour, Daley said having something closer to home could add a more familiar feel while also reducing time lost to travel.
"It gives you plenty of opportunity to bunker down here, stay here, recover here, right at the venue. Everything's here. That's pretty special. You won't have to do too much travelling. All those things help," Daley said.
"You're not getting off and on buses to go to a training venue, you're not getting off to go to the field, you're not getting off to go to a gym, you've just got it all centralised and that's very handy."
There will be more benefits down the track when players enter the first-grade system having come through right from under-16s, Daley added.
"You can run all your camps from here as well. All your emerging camps, 16s, 18s, 20s programs out of here and give them a look at what Origin's about and have them be at the home of Origin and see all the history and understand it a little bit more," he said.
"That's important for them. It's going to be pretty special. Even for the Origin boys when they walk in, they'll know it's the home of NSWRL."
Like Daley, NSW prop Aaron Woods praised the team's recent experiences at Coffs Harbour while also being optimistic about what the new centre closer to home would mean.
"It's going to have a real family feel about it and the blokes are going to be in the system from 16s as well so there's going to be no excuses now definitely," Woods said.
"They're going to have a gym, they're going to have a field, it's going to be all state of the art facilities. It's a real positive step for NSW rugby league."
One of the legacy aspects of the site is a tunnel that will run from under the facility out onto the ANZ Stadium pitch – which should make for some theatrical entrances come Origin time in Sydney. Woods said he was just hoping it wasn't too long.
"No I haven't [seen it yet] but hopefully there's a car to take us there because I think it's a pretty far walk!" Woods laughed.
"Loz was talking to us about it during the camp and everything that he said, it's real exciting and real positive for NSW rugby league. I'm really looking forward to it."