Digging it up By NIKKI TUGWELL April 26, 2006 TELSTRA Stadium has been told it needs to rip up 1000 square metres of its turf immediately to ensure the controversial playing surface is safe for this weekend's AFL and NRL matches. The urgent operation will begin this morning. Stadium officials were jolted into action following intense public pressure, ongoing dissatisfaction from various NRL clubs and, yesterday, an urgent recommendation from a turf expert. The issue reached boiling point last weekend when Manly described the Telstra Stadium surface as "unacceptable" and "dangerous". They claimed several players, including Steve Matai and Shayne Dunley, fell over untouched due to the playing surface in last Sunday's match against the Bulldogs. The Sydney Swans are scheduled to play their first game at the venue this season on Saturday night against Geelong and South Sydney take on Newcastle on Sunday. Yesterday, independent turf technology expert John Neylan recommended large areas of the surface between the 10-30m lines (for league) and centre half back and centre half forward in Aussie rules needed to be replaced immediately. "There are some areas where the turf is fragile and responding slowly to treatment," Neylan said. "The most appropriate course of action to replace those affected areas. The type of turf to be used by Telstra Stadium will produce a good result in a short time. Purely from a turf management perspective at this time, it's highly desirable to reduce the amount of traffic and activity on the playing surface. " Industry sources estimate it will cost about $75,000 and require 20 workers about 48 hours to complete the operation. Up to 1000 square metres of turf will be replaced with mature ready-to-play megayr turf. The areas of turf to be removed have made a slower-than-expected recovery from a soil disease first detected in March. "Player welfare is always our top priority," Telstra stadium CEO Ken Edwards said. "We have listened to the players, clubs and governing bodies involved and taken swift action that will effectively accelerate the recovery of the playing surface." Last night Swans football operations manager Andrew Ireland said he was pleased with the decision and expected they would train on the surface on Thursday night. "And we were confident that John Neylan, the consultant the AFL usually use, would come up with the right solution. He is not scared to rule grounds out," Ireland said. In mid-March, Canterbury and Wests Tigers lodged official complaints with Telstra Stadium after round one of the NRL. Both clubs had grave fears for their players over the sandy, shifty surface, created by a bacteria that attacked the root system. The surface deteriorated further after the stadium recently hosted a Rolling Stones concert. After high-level discussions with the AFL and NRL on Monday, Telstra Stadium officials agreed to have independent expert Neylan inspect the arena's playing surface. The Swans are scheduled to train at Telstra Stadium tomorrow night and Geelong on Friday. Both must sign off on the ground condition, as is AFL protocol. The relaid turf will also be welcome news to Souths' Adam MacDougall, who makes his return for the Rabbitohs against Newcastle at the stadium on Sunday. The centre was sidelined last weekend after injuring his left ankle on Easter Monday.