Hidden in the off-field dramas in the last week has been the financial and long term future of the Cronulla Sharks.
Last week the NRL decided to block any funding plans for the Sharks to move five of their matches to the Central Coast. I have been a long-time critic of David Gallop, but in this instance he made the right decision not to deem it as a relocation move.
The Sharks are at the cross-roads and have had to endure nightmare after nightmare this season. They are currently sitting last on the premiership table, and are being rocked by the sex scandal involving Matthew Johns and several un-named Sharks players from 2002 when they played a trial match in New Zealand.
However, the biggest issue for the Sharks is where will they be located in the coming years – if anywhere.
Is Central Coast really a worthwhile expansion option for clubs to relocate to, or even for a new NRL franchise?
The people of the Central Coast firmly voted with their feet on Monday night when the Sydney Roosters moved their home match against Melbourne to Gosford. With the hype about the proposed Bears application and their new logo – the general public had the opportunity to build momentum for the bid and they failed to show up.
When the Gold Coast was looking to field an NRL team prior to their entry in 2006, each game that was held at the run down Cararra Stadium attracted huge attendances and the public got right behind the Titans’ bid.
Cronulla’s future in the Shire is very bleak and the Shire is an area that is changing to be more like Kings Cross by the Beach and not really an area that is going to be booming with new families in the future.
The Shire is also a very isolated area and the Sharks suffer greatly from not having a strong identity away from the Cronulla-Sutherland area. Much of that can be attributed to the lack of premiership success, but the culture and isolation of the area plays much to that.
The Sharks unfortunately are doomed in the cut throat Sydney market as they are surrounded by powerful Sydney clubs the Dragons and Bulldogs, both of whom have well known brands that reach beyond their local areas.
The Dragons’ Red Vee represents so much successful tradition in the game that saw the great St George side win 11 successive premierships and the Bulldogs, who are the most successful club of the last 30 years, are fortunate to be bankrolled by a financially strong licensed club.
Where should Cronulla look to move into the future?
The gold mine in Rugby League is most certainly in Queensland with Central Queensland already putting in a submission to field an NRL side on a full-time basis and the Ipswich and Sunshine Coast areas have expressed their interest in fielding an NRL side.
The Brisbane market can certainly field two sides with Suncorp Stadium the best venue in Rugby League and not to mention that Redcliffe, Cabolture, Moreton Bay and Strathpine areas are all booming areas north of Brisbane with the highly successful Redcliffe Leagues Club in the past looking at NRL options – stretching back to 1986.
The South Australian State Government has also looked at the possibility of supporting an NRL side based in Adelaide, but the risks of venturing beyond the eastern seaboard continues to be too large in the current financial climate.
A move to Queensland offers the Sharks just the escape they need to keep their Sharkies brand and escape the cut throat Sydney market.
The Central Coast had a chance with the Northern Eagles, but instead of rallying for the side to be permanently based in Gosford the public drove the ‘franchise’ back to Brookvale Oval and back under the name of Manly-Warringah.
It’s a shame for North Sydney as they feel to this day they were unfairly treated in 1999 and extreme mismanagement killed the club so suddenly, but like Cronulla a lack of premiership success did isolate the Bears into a very small market.
The Central Coast shouldn’t be looked at as a possible NRL expansion area until the Newcastle Knights are 100% financially stable and progressing strongly. The Knights made a $1 million turnaround in the last 12 months and that is encouraging, but to have a side based in between Newcastle and Sydney could be potentially damaging for the Knights and the Newcastle region is one of the proudest Rugby League areas.
The primary investment should be into the Knights before placing a team nearby on the Central Coast.
Queensland on the other hand is fast shaping up as the home of Rugby League. Consolidate Rugby League’s strength north of Tweed Heads; that’s where the NRL’s next expansion targets should be.
I’m a supporter of 18 teams in a national wide competition, which includes possible teams in Papua New Guinea and a second side in New Zealand down the track, but the NRL must expand into areas of strength and Queensland is most certainly that.
The Sharks have to bite the bullet and rebuild their shattered brandname as unfortunately for them they don’t have a culture of success, a fistful of dollars or support outside of the Shire in Sydney to fall back on to remain where they are.
In fact, two Queensland sides, Adelaide, Perth, PNG and a second New Zealand side should all be considered before the Central Coast, as reach into new markets is of greater importance.
In Edition Five of Discord this week, Rleague.com weekly feature columnist Steve Mascord discusses the Four Corners program aired this week that rocked the NRL and why this may be the best thing that could have happened to the code. You can read Discord here.
Matthew O’Neill is a Director and Columnist with www.rleague.com.