Grass at the cutting edge: Stadium turf treated like ‘high-class athlete’

This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.

When you have high-priced commodities like NRL players gracing your stage, it’s fitting that the Bankwest and ANZ Stadium curators treat their turf “like it’s a high-class athlete”.

Since the Telstra Premiership has resumed, we’ve all marvelled at the on-field feats of our favourite players like Maika Sivo, James Tedesco and Tom Trbojevic.

Behind the scenes there are many men and women playing key roles to keep the competition running safely and smoothly.

Joel Toogood is the assistant curator for Bankwest Stadium and ANZ Stadium. It’s fair to say given Bankwest Stadium was one of the few designated stadiums for the restart of the competition, his team has been kept busy dealing with the additional foot traffic.

With up to three games a round at Bankwest Stadium, the COVID-19 pandemic means a tightly controlled schedule each week to get the turf up to playing standard.

“We treat our turf like it is a high-class athlete. You have to, it’s a living thing,” he said.

“We watch the nutrition within an inch of its life, every month we have disease and soil testing. We run through a pretty strict program of nutrients and fertilisers.

“That’s why we have someone there seven days a week. It’s an intense job and sometimes people don’t understand just how intense it is.

“Mid-week it’s all about fertilising the grass, setting up the grow lights and using the covers we have to increase warmth.

“Then we get to game day where we prep the field and mark the lines.

“Post-game we have crews of up to six people come in to clean and divot the field and remark the lines if we have more games that weekend. If it’s the last weekend of the game, we put the grow lights out again and do any fertilising that night too.”

If you’ve ever driven past the stadium in the evening, you might have seen the grow lights in action.

The six of them, which cover about a third of the field, emit a beautiful orange light and give off the impression the turf is glowing.

They perform a particularly important role in winter.

“On Sunday was the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year,” Toogood said.

“Half of our field will not see sunlight during the day. The grow lights supplement the sun that the turf misses and are the right light wave-length for grass growth.”

For those do-it-yourself landscapers playing along at home, the grass at Bankwest Stadium is a couch grass which is overlaid with rye grass during winter.

During winter the couch grass will go dormant, but in those same temperatures the rye grass thrives and repairs quicker. It also gives the ground the dark green colour you’ll see during footy season.

The days of the muddy footy pitch are long gone!

We love producing the surface. It is an art form.

Joel Toogood

In recent weeks, there has been plenty of discussion about turf quality, given the increased use of some stadiums.

It was a major talking point after Manly’s win over Canberra on Sunday at Campbelltown with several players tripping over – including Brad Parker, who was concussed – and Tom Trbojevic and Dylan Walker suffering serious leg injuries.

While the turf was not directly responsible for these injuries, Toogood said his team had noticed an increase in wear in turf at Bankwest and are acutely aware of how important it is to ensure athletes can compete safely.

“The turf is in a good place at the moment. But if the NRL want more we can do more. We have an extensive turf replacement scheme out at Windsor. If the NRL decided to have more games at Bankwest Stadium we could make it happen,” he said.

“We love producing the surface. It is an art form. To see the pitch looking good on game day and the markings all bright is really special.

“But we can’t wait to have crowds back. It’s a wonderful venue to watch footy at and it has a really good energy about it.”