ANZ Stadium could play host to ‘fake’ supporters as the NRL tries to create an atmosphere for players despite the coronavirus crackdowns
ANZ Stadium could play host to ‘fake’ supporters as the NRL tries to create an atmosphere for players despite the coronavirus crackdowns

NRL could use fake fans to fill out stadiums

Canterbury players will be given the option of running onto ANZ Stadium with artificial crowd noise blaring from the speakers as rugby league prepares for its first ever 'lock out' weekend.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal prerecorded crowd noise is one of several options being discussed by NRL officials as the code prepares to go behind closed doors for the first time in over 100 years.

With the Federal Government having suspended all gatherings of more than 500 people following the COVID-19 outbreak, all eight NRL games will be played in almost empty stadiums.

As a result, there have been discussions between broadcasters, clubs and venue staff about viable ways of maintaining an atmosphere for both players and TV audiences - including the use of 'canned' fan support.

There will be no fans at any of the games in Round 2. AAP Image/Dean Lewins.
There will be no fans at any of the games in Round 2. AAP Image/Dean Lewins.

The Bulldogs will be the first Sydney club to take the unprecedented step of playing in front of 80,000 plastic seats when they host North Queensland in Thursday Night Football at ANZ Stadium.

Despite having nobody in the crowd, both big screens at the Olympic Park venue will remain in use, while the shot clocks will also be used and referees will wear microphones as usual.

While ANZ Stadium has the ability to generate artificial crowd noise - and has done so previously - the final decision will come down to both the Bulldogs and host broadcasters, Fox Sports and Channel 9.

It is understood some TV executives would prefer the broadcast remain as "authentic" as possible.

Regardless, NRL officials have confirmed all matches across Round 2 will fall under the 500 person limit being recommended by government.

Already, clubs have been ordered to bring only those staff essential to their team taking the field, which effectively means a ban on mascots, cheerleaders and various other game day employees.

The NRL is considering pumping in crowd noise. Picture by Gregg Porteous.
The NRL is considering pumping in crowd noise. Picture by Gregg Porteous.

There will also be strict conditions on dressing room access, each of which has to have been comprehensively cleaned before game day. It is understood only players, coaches and High Performance staff will be allowed entry into the sheds at either halftime or after the game.

Elsewhere, the Channel 9 commentary team has already agreed to call the game from its Sydney studios, while scores of stadium staff who would usually provide security, pour beers, even work as ushers have also been stood down.

The league expects the total number of people inside the venue for any one game this weekend to be somewhere in the 300s.

In a surprise twist however, the NRL was considering an increase to game day numbers in one unlikely area - ball boys.

Yet while every Steeden kicked out over the sideline will now have to be retrieved, rather than having the crowd toss it back, the league has decided to keep the number of ball boys at four.