With little more than a year of life, the Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville this Saturday will live a historic day.
On the one hand, because it will add to your young resume a double round of the Rugby Championship that would envy any iconic stadium anywhere in the world, with duels between New Zealand and South Africa first and Australia and Argentina second (the entire Rugby Championship is available on Star +).
But also, the clash between All Blacks and Springboks will be number 100 in history between the two most powerful teams in the history of sports, precisely in the centenary year of the first duel between the two, played on August 13, 1921 in Dunedin, with a New Zealand victory 13-5.
The North Queensland stadium, with a capacity for 25 thousand people, is multipurpose and multisport. But its main function is to be the home of the North Queensland Cowboys, the team that plays the National Rugby League, the most popular sport in the region.
Such is the influence of rugby league that the decisive push for the construction of North Queensland Stadium came in October 2015, when minutes after winning the Premiership for the first time, the Cowboys captain said the region deserved a new stadium.
Johnathan Thurston’s words put the issue on the national agenda, since they had an audience of millions of people on TV, and also, a few meters from him, the then Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, listened to him.
With the commitment of politicians from different parties, both regionally and nationally, the project took off. In an abandoned industrial space on Monkey Island, south of downtown Townsville, a state-of-the-art stadium was built, with a semi-open roof that mimics the shape of a leaf of the pandano, the most popular local tree, next to the coconut tree.
The building is designed to withstand tropical cyclones in the region, and the northern end of the building was left open, allowing spectators to see the city from their seats. And just at the North entrance of the stadium a statue was erected in tribute to Thurston, known as “JT”, the great sports hero of the Cowboys.
Thus, in less than five years, the project became a reality, ending just at the moment when the coronavirus pandemic began to affect the entire world.
Its inaugural event was an Elton John recital on February 29, 2020. And a couple of weeks later, on March 13, it hosted its first sporting event, the Queensland Derby between the Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos.
The party was not complete because the victory in the state classic, also known as XXXX Derby, for the sponsorship of the most popular beer in Queensland, went to visitors 28-21. And in addition, it was the farewell to “normality”, since the next day in Australia any event that could bring together more than 500 people was prohibited.
As has happened around the world, COVID-19 affected sports calendars. Among other events that could not be held at the Townsville stadium, a test match between the Wallabies and Fiji was thwarted, as well as a football match between Brisbane Roar, from the A-League, and Crystal Palace from the English Premier League.
But the privileged situation of Townsville within Australia, being a city practically free of coronavirus, made it a very attractive option to receive events that, originally, had another assigned destination.
Thus, the Queensland Country Bank Stadium began to host rugby matches, both league and union, as the Super Rugby clash between the Reds and Chiefs last May, or the Seven of Oceania in June.
And he took the jackpot: the rescheduling of both this weekend’s Rugby Championship matches. Originally, Wallabies and Pumas were going to play in Newcastle, while All Blacks and Springboks would do so in Dunedin, exactly the place where they met for the first time.
The gates of the stadium will open at 15:30 local time, and just over an hour later the New Zealand Haka will be experienced, as a prelude to the first game, while the Australia-Argentina kickoff will be at 20:05.
What is at stake in these two games, which will have an audience, but always under strict COVID protocol?
In addition, the men in black will seek to stretch a favorable record against the one who, in any case, is the rival that has the best record against them (36.4%): there are 59 victories for New Zealand, 36 for South Africa and 4 draws.
As for Australia, it will be the first time that the Wallabies have played a test in the city, something that provokes great enthusiasm and is sure to cause a full house. And, incidentally, it will serve to pour a few dollars into the local economy, which was no exception and was affected by the pandemic.
Finally, on the side of Los Pumas, there are two data in the record against Australia that invite you to dream.
The only two times they beat the Wallabies on the road was in Queensland. First in Brisbane, in 1983 and by 18-3, and then, in 2018 in Gold Coast, by 23-19.
In addition, the only time they played in Townsville, also in 1983 and just four days after the victory in Brisbane, the Pumas were winners, 22-12 against Queensland Country. But this is a story that deserves to be told separately.