Renowned actor Al Pacino, famed for his standout performance in Any Given Sunday, puts a spotlight on the inches on an NFL field, portraying them as pivotal to the essence of the game. He implores his team to strive for those inches; to go through hell and back to secure them, indicative of their priceless value. In his portrayal of coach Tony D’Amato, he reminds his charges, “The inches we need are everywhere around us.”
The role of inches in the game of rugby league is not unlike the NFL, determining the outcome of various matches. Yet, when the spectacle known as the “Greatest Game of All” is displayed in the United States, it will unfold on one of the smallest fields ever witnessed in a professional game.
Referred to as “The Death Star,” Allegiant Stadium, costing a staggering $3 billion, presents a playing field five metres narrower than an average ground. Couple that with the length being short by four metres, and it results in over 1 million fewer square inches available to snatch possession or protect.
South Sydney hooker Damien Cook made a lighthearted comment about this saying, “I don’t think ‘AJ’ is going to be too happy about that, not scoring any tries in Vegas,” referencing his teammate Alex Johnston, the successful winger close to setting a new try-scoring record. Cook jokingly adds, “Maybe we can change it to 12 men per game, someone can get sin-binned straight away.”
The NRL aims to introduce expansive football to its prospective fans in the US, but with lesser room to offer. Will the limited space restrict them from executing their signature tries, where they defy gravity whilst fighting off defenders, to deliver a thrilling performance?
Manly coach Anthony Seibold, whose team is set to compete against South Sydney in the Las Vegas double-header, addressed the concern, stating, “You think about the wingers diving into corners like a normal-sized field, it’s more narrow.” He later revealed his strategy for tackling the restrained field dimensions, “One of the things we will do leading up to that week, we’ll try to find a field that has the same dimensions as what we are playing on. We’ll practice how we want to play our footy. There will be implications for our prep for a week or two leading in.”
Seibold leverages his experience as a former player at Hull KR, where Old Trafford, the home ground, mirrors the dimensions of Allegiant Stadium. Clarifying on matchups in a limited area, Seibold explained, “The defenders are a bit more shoulder to shoulder due to the spacing, so we’ll need to look tactically at what suits best.”
Whilst hoping Allegiant field could accommodate some padding around the edges to expand its width, Seibold remains optimistic. He reiterates, “The athleticism of the players these days can create space on the edges,” adding, “It will be different, five metres is a lot, but that’s part of the experience, isn’t it? You have to be a bit creative with how you play footy.”