It was recently announced, within a new strategic plan that expansion was definitely back on the agenda for the NRL, and a key part for the future of our great game.
However, Todd Greenberg has said that expansion would not occur before the next broadcast deal in 2023. The plan includes possible franchises in Brisbane, Perth, PNG, New Zealand and Fiji.
The noise is rising for the next team to be Queensland-based, with a huge bid coming from Ipswich (known as the ‘Western Corridor’ bid), taking in Logan, Ipswich, along with all that western area of Brisbane and right out through Toowoomba, the Darling Downs and Roma – true rugby league heartland. This bid revolves around community ownership along with grassroots league and is led by Ipswich Jets chairman Steve Johnson..
This year I’ve attended a trial game between the Broncos and Titans as well as the first ever NRL premiership game between the Dragons and Titans in Toowoomba, and they were huge for Clive Berghoffer Stadium (with facilities that still need upgrading). Simply look at the talent that has come from the region: Alfie Langer, Cameron Smith, the Walters brothers, Corey Parker – and the list continues!
Along with the Western Corridor bid there are bids from the Brisbane Bombers consortium, Redcliffe Dolphins, Brothers, and Central Queensland.
Below I have the details of the Queensland-based bid teams as well as other possible expansion locations.
Brothers: Big names of the NRL such as Cameron Smith (Logan Brothers), Billy Slater (Innisfail Brothers), Sam Thaiday (Townsville Brothers) and Wayne Bennett (Toowoomba and Brisbane Brothers) all played with Brothers clubs in some form.
Redcliffe Dolphins: This bid has stayed in the background with media coverage but is seen as a front-runner when expansion gets the green light.
With a successful history spanning more than 70 years and financial stability, the Dolphins are ready to join the NRL. In 2015 Redcliffe received a $4 million funding commitment from the federal government towards a $12 million, 10,000 seat stadium at Dolphin Oval, which would be the training base for an NRL side.
Recent studies showed that the Redcliffe Dolphins brand was more widely known than the Queensland Bulls and Queensland Reds, with only the Broncos and Brisbane Lions ahead of them.
Central Queensland: A bid run by Geoff Murphy, owner of the multi-million dollar JM Kelly Group. He has said that his bid would fill ‘the gap’ in the NRL market with the heartland rugby league territory receiving their own team.
Murphy said, “The population of the CQ area has slightly more people than they have in Townsville and we are the heartland of rugby league. We’d play our games in Rockhampton but we would take games to Mackay and Bundaberg.” Matt Scott, Jake Granville, Corey Oates and Ben Hunt all hail from the region.
Brisbane Bombers: The Bombers have been the boom for NRL expansion. Former NRL star Scott Sattler, a key figure in the establishment of the Gold Coast Titans, has been assisting the bid as a consultant on football operations and development.
He has said if successful the Bombers would fill the void for the south-east Queensland rugby league public with regular games in Brisbane.
Central Coast: The North Sydney Bears brand was well and truly established and would still bring a legion of loyal fans all over Australia awaiting the return of their team in rugby league heartland.
High-profile backers such as John Singleton has previously stated he would assist with this bid. The only real concern I see here is the fact that it may be seen as being too close to Sydney.
Perth: The west has an appetite for rugby league and a new stadium which has already been great for drawing rugby league fans. A Pirates bid has been worked on by A-League Perth Glory owner Tony Sage and former Balmain great Benny Elias.
Wellington, New Zealand: An expansion here would allow the NRL to address the non-Warriors fans in New Zealand. The Warriors have dominated the NYC competition, which shows how large the talent pool is in this region. If this bid was to be successful they would need a brand new stadium.
Papua New Guinea: Why is there not an NRL team here where rugby league is their national sport? This is a question that has been repeated over time.
The Hunters won the QLD Intrust Super Cup in 2017 and you don’t have to look far to see their talent on display. Unfortunately, financial concerns and lack of corporate support would be huge issues, along with the lack of players that would relocate to PNG as a base.
Adelaide: This is very unlikely, considering the stranglehold that AFL has in the state. The Rams left a footprint in the 90s and I could not see this being pushed to the top of the pile.