Queensland’s State of Origin team faced an underwhelming welcome in an almost-empty airport as they touched down in Townsville ahead of the series opener.
The team were met with a large banner reading ‘Go the Maroons’ and balloons lining the arrival gate as they stepped into the airport on Monday.
But despite the decorations, the typical fanfare was noticeably absent, with only a handful of supporters waiting inside the terminal to greet the players.
The New South Wales Blues arrived to a similar setting when they landed earlier on Monday to prepare for Wednesday night’s game.
The awkward reception comes after Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last month successfully bid to move the game from Melbourne’s MCG to her state in light of Victoria’s latest Covid-19 outbreak.
The Queensland Maroons arrived to a flat reception when they touched down in Townsville on Monday (pictured)
Amid the hasty change, Townsville has had little time to prepare for the event Palaszczuk had declared would be ‘history in the making’ after the game was relocated.
Now, the northeast Queensland city, which has a population of around 178,000, is racing to prepare for a wave of footy-mad fans descending on the region for the opening game of the 2021 State of Origin series.
Tents, extra entertainment and a ‘Northern Caxton Street’ are all part of Townsville’s blockbuster plans for the city’s inaugural State of Origin match.
Game one is expected to inject $7 million dollars into the local economy and a short 10-day notice has sent organisers into overdrive.
Match tickets were sold out within 15 minutes as tens of thousands joined online queues while others fronted ticketing stores.
For those lucky enough to snag tickets, their next obstacle was manoeuvring the saturated hotel market, with prices marked up and near full capacity declared just days from the event.
Balloons and a banner were erected at the arrival entrance to meet the players after the game was swiftly relocated to Queensland amid Victoria’s Covid outbreak
Townsville’s answer was the creation of ‘Tent City’, 100 tents trucked from Gympie to give footy fans their own base south of the CBD to stay during Origin.
Since launching last Friday afternoon, the improvised accommodation has received a number of bookings and more than 7000 visits to the booking page, Townsville Enterprise says.
Fans staying at the temporary site will be provided transport to and from the game, 24-hour security and toilet facilities.
Local council has also unveiled large plans to transform the popular Flinders Street into the Caxton Street of the north.
Giant screens will be erected to cope with overflow with bands and entertainment scheduled throughout the day.
Players walk into Townsville airport on Monday as the city races to prepare for a wave of fans
The Queensland team were wearing masks as they made their way through Townsville airport
Caxton Street is well known for its game-day buzz in Brisbane and Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill says she believes the same can be done up north.
‘We’re going to really ramp up the atmosphere of the street eats events we’ve held recently and continue it along the entirety of Flinders Street and throughout Central Park with roving entertainers leading the way to the Stadium.’
Flinders Street is expected to welcome more than 10,000 patrons come game day with the city’s restaurants, bars and clubs fully booked in preparation.
There will also be live Origin live sites established to allow people to watch the game across the community.
Last week around 2000 extra seats were trucked from the Gold Coast and Sydney to increase Queensland Country Bank’s Stadium capacity to just shy of 28,000.
Construction finished on Monday with organisers confident the temporary seats will provide uninterrupted viewing.
‘We’ve got a team at the moment working through to ensure there’s no sightlines and we need to make sure that every page is the best possible viewing experience,’ Stadium manager Tom Kimball said.
‘Rest assured, the seats that will be there will be exceptional.
‘Once we know that all those seats there have no restrictions, and they’re and they’re ready to go they’ll be on sale tomorrow (Tuesday).’
The players filed into buses to depart the airport as they prepare for Wednesday night’s series opener