NRL Expansion: Race to the 18th Franchise

Since the Dolphins became the 18th team on October 13, 2021, there has been a lot of media speculation about who would next enter the competition. Who will be the next team to join the NRL?

The ARL on Friday (December 8, 2023) made it their intention to announce the 18th team by April 2024 with the new team set to enter in 2026. So many options have been talked about over the last two years. Here’s a timeline of possible options and how the story has evolved.

It should be no surprise that most of the stories are coming from News Corp, with a trickle of commentary coming from other sources.

Part 1: 17th Franchise Decided – The 18th Franchise Race Begins

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October 13, 2021: ARL chair Peter V’landys urged the losing 17th licence franchises Brisbane Firehawks and Brisbane Jets not to give up home and if all goes well, an 18th team would be introduced “reasonably” quickly. (News Corp – Brent Read, Peter Badel)

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October 28, 2021: South Sydney Rabbitohs CEO Blake Solly throws support behind the North Sydney Bears. The Bears were looking to play at regional venues and up to six games at an upgraded North Sydney Oval, with a possible geographic link to North Sydney or the Central Coast and retaining their traditional black and red colours. (News Corp – Dean Ritchie)

October 29, 2021: The QRL urged the NRL to consider a team in the southwest corridor to combat the threat of Brisbane Lions setting up their home base at Springfield. The report quoted North Sydney and Western Reds had joined the race to be the 18th side. (News Corp – Travis Meyn, Peter Badel)

Franchises mentioned to 29/10/2021: Brisbane Firehawks (13/10/21), Brisbane Jets (13/10/21), North Sydney Bears (28/10/21), Western Reds (29/10/21)

Part 2: Dawn of the 2022 Season – Combatting the AFL Threat

February 10, 2022: ARL Commissioner Kate Jones declared her support for another Queensland franchise but a poll conducted by the Daily Telegraph believed a team from Perth or Western Australia should be the next franchise to enter the competition. (News Corp – Travis Meyn, Brent Read)

February 16, 2022: Brad Fittler throws his support behind Perth as the next franchise ahead of the State of Origin event in Perth for the upcoming series. (Canberra Times – Fraser Barton)

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Franchises mentioned to 16/2/2022: Brisbane Firehawks (13/10/21), Brisbane Jets (13/10/21), North Sydney Bears (28/10/21), Western Reds (29/10/21)

Part 3: International Expansion Bid Launched

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May 5, 2022: Papua New Guinea receive the backing of their prime minister, James Marape to launch a bid to become the 18th team in the next broadcast cycle. (Sydney Morning Herald – Michael Chammas)

June 24, 2022: Reports that North Sydney Chairman Daniel Dickson meets with Perth officials in forming a partnership for the 18th franchise bid. The report suggests North Sydney are the early favourites. Christchurch is mentioned as a possible option along with the well-known third Brisbane team. (News Corp – Dean Ritchie)

Franchises mentioned to 24/6/2022: Brisbane Firehawks (13/10/21), Brisbane Jets (13/10/23), North Sydney Bears (28/10/21), Western Reds (29/10/21), Papua New Guinea (5/5/22), North Sydney Bears/Perth partnership (24/6/22), Christchurch (24/6/22)

Part 4: Dolphins Join – NRL Ambition to Expand to 20 Teams

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March 12, 2023: Reports that the NRL are looking to expand beyond 18 teams with a bold plan to expand to 20. This would give the NRL more content and the ability to get a better television deal with ten games a week. The report suggests the NRL could increase by a minimum 20% television revenue. The report mentions a Pacifica team based out of Cairns would be great for the game and a Perth Bears and Ipswich-based club could be the way to go. (News Corp – Phil Rothfield)

March 12, 2023: A separate report suggests a Pacifica Bears franchise would put them in direct competition with the Papua New Guinea bid. This report suggests the Pacifica bid would be the front-runner to win the 18th licence and play games in Cairns, Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea. The Australian Government would supply financial support to help the franchise. (News Corp – Peter Badel, Brent Read, Michael Carayannis)

March 19, 2023: Speculation continues about expansion beyond 18 teams with a second New Zealand team being mentioned or combined New Zealand/Pacifica would be a frontrunner for the 19th team. Western Australia and a second team in Melbourne is mentioned as part of taking on the AFL. (News Corp – Peter Badel, Brent Read, Michael Carayannis)

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April 3, 2023: Another story about the ARL looking at an 18th team with bidding to include Perth, Pacifica, Papua New Guinea, Brisbane, New Zealand, and the North Sydney Bears. Adelaide is mentioned for the first time as a potential franchise. (News Corp – Peter Badel, Brent Read, Michael Carayannis)

May 2, 2023: Reports that V’landys is interested in looking into a second team in Victoria with the current 17-team competition to expand to 20 by 2032. Melbourne Storm chairman Matt Tripp opposed a second Victorian team. (News Corp – David Riccio)

May 10, 2023: An article by Roy Masters in the Age talks to Valynce Te Whare who says if there is to be expansion it should come from New Zealand but only when the ARLC funds the Warriors’ development program. The timetable for a decision on the 18th team was set to be made in 18 months’ time with the new side entering in 2027 or 2028. While the ARLC have talked up a second Victorian side, there’s been little or no mention of a second New Zealand side. (The Age – Roy Masters)

Franchises mentioned to 10/5/2023: Brisbane Firehawks (13/10/21), Brisbane Jets (13/10/23), North Sydney Bears (28/10/21), Western Reds (29/10/21), Papua New Guinea (5/5/22), North Sydney Bears/Perth partnership (24/6/22), Christchurch (24/6/22), Pacifica – Cairns based (12/3/23), Perth Bears (12/3/23), Ipswich based club (12/3/23), Pacifica Bears (12/3/23), second New Zealand team (19/3/23), New Zealand/Pacifica team (19/3/23), Adelaide (19/3/23), second Melbourne/Victorian team (19/3/23)

Part 5: Fresh Queensland Bid Joins The Race

May 16, 2023: HostPlus Cup side Brisbane Tigers announce their bid to join the NRL. Reports suggest the club is interested in either a stand-alone bid or to be part of a joint venture with Pacifica. (News Corp – Peter Badel)

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May 25, 2023: Interview with Grant Mayer talking up the reason why Adelaide should be included in the expansion talks but admits they’d need to be a similar long-term plan such as what the AFL did with GWS Giants in Sydney. (News Corp – Dean Ritchie)

June 6, 2023: V’landys says that Papua New Guinea is at the “top of the list” in the battle for the 18th franchise licence. The ARLC boss is looking to introduce a new team for 2026 if time permits. (News Corp – Peter Badel)

Franchises mentioned to 6/6/2023: Brisbane Firehawks (13/10/21), Brisbane Jets (13/10/23), North Sydney Bears (28/10/21), Western Reds (29/10/21), Papua New Guinea (5/5/22), North Sydney Bears/Perth partnership (24/6/22), Christchurch (24/6/22), Pacifica – Cairns based (12/3/23), Perth Bears (12/3/23), Ipswich based club (12/3/23), Pacifica Bears (12/3/23), second New Zealand team (19/3/23), New Zealand/Pacifica team (19/3/23), Adelaide (19/3/23), second Melbourne/Victorian team (19/3/23), Brisbane Tigers (16/5/23), Brisbane Tigers/Pacifica partnership (16/5/23).

Part 6: The Off-Season Speculation Builds To Decision Day

October 7, 2023: Reports that the ARLC are looking to expand to 18 or 19 teams in the coming years and 20 at some point. Interest from consortiums in Papua New Guinea, Perth, Brisbane Easts and Pacifica. (News Corp – Brent Read)

October 28, 2023: Reports that the ARLC and Australian Government are in talks about a project worth $600 million (Australian) to support a Pacific-based team, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese favouring a Papua New Guinea bid. This may include the team playing games at Barlow Park in Cairns. (News Corp – Peter Badel)

October 30, 2023: Reports North Sydney Bears are about to lodge a formal bid for admission as the 18th side. The plan is to include Pacific Island nations and parts of New Zealand in their paperwork. (News Corp – Dean Ritchie)

December 8, 2023: V’landys announces following the final ARLC meeting that the governing body wants to make a decision by April at the latest for the winning bid to enter the competition as early as 2026. The Papua New Guinea bid is favourite for admission to the competition. The report goes on to say Brisbane Easts, Perth Jets, North Sydney (joining forces with Pacifica) have expressed interest in the bidding process. (News Corp – Brent Read)

Franchises mentioned to 8/12/2023: Brisbane Firehawks (13/10/21), Brisbane Jets (13/10/23), North Sydney Bears (28/10/21), Western Reds (29/10/21), Papua New Guinea (5/5/22), North Sydney Bears/Perth partnership (24/6/22), Christchurch (24/6/22), Pacifica – Cairns based (12/3/23), Perth Bears (12/3/23), Ipswich based club (12/3/23), Pacifica Bears (12/3/23), second New Zealand team (19/3/23), New Zealand/Pacifica team (19/3/23), Adelaide (19/3/23), second Melbourne/Victorian team (19/3/23), Brisbane Tigers (16/5/23), Brisbane Tigers/Pacifica partnership (16/5/23), Perth Jets (8/12/23).

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