Wade McKinnon, Ashley Graham and Luke Burt visit Blakebrook Public School yesterday.
Wade McKinnon, Ashley Graham and Luke Burt visit Blakebrook Public School yesterday.

10,000 fans line up for league clash



LISMORE'S gonna make a motza.

As football fever yesterday gripped the region, local rugby league, council and business figures predicted tonight's Sharks/Eels clash at Oakes Oval will give the city an instant $200,000 cash injection.

And tonight's game, which is expected to draw about 10,000 people from across the North Coast, was only a teaser of things to come, they said.

The City-Country origin league match to be played in Lismore in a few months is expected to set new crowd records at Oakes Oval and focus the nation's attention on the Northern Rivers.

"You could multiply this game by 10 and that would give you an idea of what the City-Country game will be for us," Marist Brothers Rugby League Club president Steve Campbell said.

Not that five-year-old Blakebrook Primary student Danae Haywood cares about any of that ? she just wants to see her team, the Parramatta Eels, thrash Cronulla tonight.

Danae, who will be at tonight's game with her parents and three brothers, got to meet Eels players Luke Burt, Ashley Graham and Wade McKinnon at school yesterday as part of a pre-match tour of the region.

Danae was predicting an Eels win, but Sharks coach Stuart Raper had other ideas.

"We don't have a full complement of players, but we haven't come here just for the fun of it," Raper said.

He said the game would test some of the younger players.

"Our team hasn't been finalised yet, so there is a lot for some of these blokes to play for.

"I've spoken to each player individually and expect them to give the best they can."

The Sharks flew into Ballina Airport soon after lunchtime yesterday and by midafternoon they were out among the people with an open training session and free footy clinic at Oakes Oval.

Cronulla fan Michael Gahan, 9, of Lismore, would also have taken issue with Danae ? especially after meeting his favourite player, fullback David Peachey.

"I've watched him play on television, but never in real life," he said.

Mr Campbell and Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League president Robin Harley said the region was buzzing with excitement.

"Lismore is just a sports-crazy town; it always has been and it just seems to get bigger all the time," Mr Campbell said.

Mr Harley said the local league was working on getting another pre-season trial game for next year and things already looked optimistic.

That suits Lismore mayor Merv King just fine.

Cr King said tonight's game, and the rush of visitors and dollars that followed it, would be good for the city and he wanted to see more of it.

"Over the past 10 years we haven't been able to get them here. Now (with tonight's game, this week's Waratahs training session and the CityCountry match) we have a surplus, and that's good."

Predictions for the cash benefit to the city of tonight's game range up to $1 million, but Lismore City Council events co-ordinator John Bancroft said the most likely figure was about $200,000.

Mr Bancroft said the council was grabbing for every sporting and cultural event it thought the city could cater for, but rugby league was the mother lode.

"For crowds, it's the biggest," he said.

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