Newcastle City Council to meet with South Newcastle to discuss Townson Oval quagmire.

SOUTH Newcastle rugby league club could be liable for damages after the playing surface at Townson Oval was reduced to a quagmire on Sunday.

The reigning Newcastle RL premiers staged five back-to-back games, including their first-grade clash with Cessnock, at times in torrential rain.

Large parts of the field were left resembling a bog.

Fellow Townson tenants Merewether-Carlton (rugby union) and Merewether district cricket club have expressed concerns about the state of the pitch.

Newcastle City Council representatives met with South officials on Tuesday morning for an on-site inspection and were weighing up whether to fine the club.

In a statement, council referred to the user agreement which states: “Any excessive damage caused to sports grounds from inappropriate use is the responsibility of the user.

“Council will invoice the club or association for damage caused to sports grounds, where such damage is considered to be excessive and greater than would be expected from normal wear and tear.

“Council’s decision on whether excessive damage has been caused shall be made by experienced staff and shall be final.”

Asked if council had given South permission to proceed with games on Sunday, a spokesperson replied: “For council sports grounds, ground inspections are required to be carried out by the referee/umpire and the user group prior to the start of play to ensure the surface is in a safe condition for use.”

South secretary Ross Hodge said a decision to play or postpone Sunday’s games was “a process that works between councils and the clubs as to the final say on it”.

“They make calls on some days, other days they leave it to consultation between us and them,” he said.

Hodge said that “parts of the ground had been closed during the week, but it was open with the exception of the pitch on Friday”. 

He added that a council representative inspected the field on Saturday “and on Sunday I had discussions with the council officers about the potential of playing.”

He said the weather forecast indicated the rain would clear, but: “It got very wet during the middle of first grade. The half-time break was a hell of a shower.”

South Newcastle have three more regular-season games at Townson but the next is not until July 2. Merewether-Carlton have seven home games remaining, the next four in a row, starting with the annual blockbuster against Wanderers on Saturday.

“We have been in contact with council to make sure they understand we have consecutive home games against Wanderers and Hamilton,” Merewether president Steve Reid said. “Our expectation is that council will be able to get the ground up. Wanderers and Hamilton are massive revenue games for us.”

Reid said he was hoping to attract a crowd of more than 2500 for the clash with the Two Blues.

“It is the greatest rivalry in Newcastle sport,” Reid said. “That is borne from the amount of people who turn up and passion displayed irrespective of where both clubs are on the ladder. Non-rugby people go there just to see the contest.”

Saturday also doubles as Merewether’s sponsors’ day.

Merewether cricket club president Ken Beckett was in disbelief when he visited the ground on Monday.

“I just can’t believe they played on it,” Beckett said. “It’s out of our control in terms of the cricket club, but it’s a mess. We take a bit of pride in the place and our curator does a wonderful job. He looks after the ground like it’s his own backyard … it was looking a picture at the end of last season.”

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