If you’re game enough to sneak past security and into the Waratahs change rooms on Saturday night before their match against the Hurricanes, you’ll stumble upon some photographs on the wall.
In the home team’s inner sanctum at Leichhardt Oval are photos of … Leichhardt Oval.
Regarded by some as the “eighth wonder of the world”, Leichhardt Oval has been home to some brilliant sporting contests over the years, mostly in rugby league.
Five years ago, no one could have predicted the Waratahs and Leichhardt Oval would one day become synonymous with each other.
“Fill the hill” is not a new slogan, nor is it an original bit of rugby marketing, but it’s what motivates Waratahs coach Darren Coleman more than anything in his mission of rebuilding NSW from a dysfunctional unit last year.
Coleman sticks photos on the change room walls of not just the Leichhardt Oval hill, but images of a deserted Bankwest Stadium and SCG to remind players of their primary objective: to win back the support of disillusioned Waratahs fans.
So far, so good, three rounds before a Super Rugby quarter-final.
Izaia Perese, named the Waratahs’ best player last year in a winless season, understands why NSW fans voted with their feet.
“Last year was a pretty lonely year regarding the fans,” Perese said. “With us not getting any wins, I don’t blame them. They don’t want to come out and watch a team who is getting pumped every week. To knock off the Crusaders was amazing.
“Some of the goals that DC has set out for us, that we were going to fill the stands … it is not coming from an arrogant point of view. We want to be the best we can be and be rock stars, so what does it take to get there? How much hard work does that take?”
The Waratahs in their victory over the Force in March.Credit:Getty
The Waratahs are catering for 14,000 fans on Saturday night, if all goes well. A 7:45pm kick-off may hamper their chances of such a big turnout but after more than 10,000 supporters rolled through the turnstiles to watch a three-point win over the Crusaders a fortnight ago, anything is possible.
“There’s been a few images resurface of the crowds at Leichhardt as the season has gone on,” said Waratahs fullback Alex Newsome. “[Coleman] has spoken the whole time he’s come back about having the vision of the footy stadium full and just getting the Tahs back to where they should be in terms of winning games and having the support of the state.
“We’ve seen a few photos of blokes on the roofs of surrounding houses. That might be something to shoot for.”
Captain Jake Gordon bore more of the brunt than anyone last year and says the symbolism of the images on the walls are an excellent motivator, as the team strives for its third straight win against a Hurricanes outfit stacked with All Blacks.
“My stress has gone down,” Gordon said. “We’re tracking in the right direction.
“We spoke about the people you play for. For me, my parents have made huge sacrifices for me as a young guy.
“Leichhardt has got a real tribalism feel to it. Ninety per cent of our squad is from NSW and played in the Shute Shield, which is massive too. You get a really strong affiliation. I think people follow him [Coleman] into Leichhardt now.”
Watch every match of the Super Rugby Pacific on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Continues this weekend with Blues v Reds (Saturday 4:30pm AEST) and Waratahs v Hurricanes (Saturday 7:15pm AEST). All streaming ad-free, live and on demand only on Stan Sport.
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