WANDERERS captain Anthony Barrett played his first game of rugby at No.2 Sportsground and made his first-grade debut as a 17-year-old against University at the same ground.
Today the 29-year-old hopes to help the Two Blues christen the $7.25million redevelopment with a victory over unbeaten Newcastle and Hunter rugby union leaders Southern Beaches.
The 5000-seat stadium will be the headquarters of the NHRU.
Newcastle Council provided $5.2million for the project, and the rest came from a federal grant plus funding and volunteer support from the NHRU and Wanderers, who will continue to use the facility as their home ground. Wanderers have lived up to their moniker, playing ‘home’ games at No.1 Sportsground, Passmore Oval, Hawkins Oval and Connolly Park since construction started at No.2 in 2010.
They have trained at Islington Oval and under portable lights at No.5 Sportsground.
The last time they called No.2 home – the 2009 season – they didn’t lose a game on their own turf and went on to win the premiership, beating arch rivals Merewether 21-20 in an epic grand final.
‘‘It has been a difficult couple of years,’’ Barrett said.
‘‘We have had to train in the dark and get dressed in our cars. It’s hard to attract players when you don’t have a home base, and it affects morale.
‘‘But I’m sure the wait will be worth it. Now we just have to make sure we turn it into a fortress.
‘‘Hopefully we can set the bar early and show it is going to be difficult for opposition teams to win here. That is the reputation we want to build.’’
Wanderers are sitting in third spot on 19 points and are coming off a last-minute 32-31 loss to The Waratahs.
Barrett, Kiwi prop Damian Winter and breakaway Cory Te Koeti return from NSW Country duties.
‘‘It has been a bit of a disrupted start to the season,’’ Barrett said.
Though confident, Barrett is under no illusion of the task facing the Two Blues today.
‘‘Southern Beaches will be a tough, but we have to set the standard,’’ he said.
‘‘I think it will come down to who wants it more.’’
Southern Beaches captain Andy Delore was a member of Wanderers’ 2005 premiership side and called No.2 home until his junior club were promoted to premier rugby.
He, like most, was looking forward to playing at the upgraded ground but was hoping to play the role of party pooper.
‘‘It is great for Newcastle rugby to have a ground like that,’’ he said.
‘‘We are expecting them to be revved up for what will be a massive day.
‘‘Our focus has been on ourselves.
‘‘Our forwards have really led the way this year and we need them to step up again tomorrow.’’