Mapping out future NRL expansion

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Dallas Johnson from the Storm is spear tackled in the NRL by Gold Coast Titans players AAP Image/Action Photographics/Jeff Crow

Dallas Johnson from the Storm is spear tackled in the NRL by Gold Coast Titans players AAP Image/Action Photographics/Jeff Crow

With the NRL footy season about to end after this Sunday’s blockbuster between the Eels and Storm, it’s now time for me to try and remember what I do with my time during the off season.

One way to pass the time is to have a look into the future and see what it holds for the NRL, in this case its potential expansion plans.

Here is my guess at which clubs will be lining up for the beginning of the 2020 NRL season.

These predictions may seem reasonable if you have been following media and fan discussions surrounding the matter.

Firstly, here are the new teams:

1. Central Coast team.
Everyone’s prediction for the next cab off the rank. Population of 300 thousand, and they already have the 20,100-seater Bluetongue stadium.

The Central Coast are screaming out for an NRL license, the only real question is whether it will be The Central Coast Bears or a brand new name – for example The Central Coast Centurions.

While the Greg Florimo lead Bears bid has already named a coach in David Farleigh and sponsor in Mortgage House, the NRL will want to use the Gold Coast Titans as a blueprint for all new bids and teams due to their fantastic success.

If the fans in the Central Coast were given the choice between having an extinct Sydney team or having their very own team name and image, it’s hard to see them preferring the Bears.

2. Queensland teams.
With its huge population growth and three current teams all going gangbusters, the NRL will want to give licenses to more Qld teams. This is only logical. The only question is where and who first.

The Central Qld bid is currently considered to be out in front, but this of course can change. They are rugby league fanatics and have a team in the Qld Cup competition.

They would be based in Rockhampton and the only concern is that the population of Central Qld is only 190K.

However, the NRL will look favourably at the Central Coast due to the ongoing support for the North Qld Cowboys, arguably the most loyal supporters of any NRL team.

The NRL can easily forecast Central Qld having the same strong parochial support.

The Sunshine Coast have a population of 312 thousand are they are the 2009 Qld Cup champions in their first year in the competition.

The Sunshine Coast team wear maroon and white, they are the Eagles, and the Sunshine Coast NRL bid have stated although they would prefer their own NRL team they are willing to accept a relocated Sydney team.

So guess where I’m going with this one?

Manly to relocate to the Sunshine Coast.

Many Sydneysiders agree that ten Sydney teams are too many for a 16 or 18 team competition. Manly have done well to fight back from near bankrupcy in the nineties, but they have private ownership who will surely be tempted to relocate to a strong rugby league demographic in Australia’s fastest growing region.

Sea Eagles chief executive Grant Mayer revealed his club’s plans to host NRL games on the Sunshine Coast back in 2008 and don’t forget the NRL’s $8 million relocation package is available for any Sydney club contemplating a move interstate.

The Ipswich/Logan corridor was named by David Gallop as a possible place for a new team.

Brisbane’s South West area’s of Ipswich and Logan are joined by the motorway, have a population of 400K and ironically the Ipswich Jets battled against the Souths Logan Magpies in the 2008 Qld Cup grand final. This would make a fantastic local derby with the Brisbane Broncos and would not affect the Broncos powerful influence in Brisbane.

Here are the definite maybes:

1. The Wellington Orcas
Out-pointed for the 16th license by the Gold Coast Titans (as were the Central Coast Bears) and unfortunatly will probably get out pointed in any future bids as well.

The NRL will need to put in a lot of effort towards junior development in the North Island in particular before giving New Zealand a second NRL team.

2. Papua New Guinea
The only country where rugby league is the number one sport.

For me, the Kumuls were the highlight of the 2008 Rugby League World Cup and you can imagine them being crowd favorites. Although the passion and enthusiasm is obviously there, the infastructure is not.

Mal Maninga has backed a PNG bid for inclusion into the Qld Cup and this is a logical step before the NRL.

PNG, however, is still for the most part a third world country and they will need huge improvements in the country’s infastructure first.

This is a bigger priority than sport.

In saying that, a PNG team in the NRL would be a great achievement and something for the whole country to identify with.

3. Adelaide/Perth
The AFL exhausted all avenues in the southern states before expanding with the new Western Sydney and Gold Coast teams.

Due to weak administration and News Ltd’s involvement, rugby league is at least ten years behind the AFL and has not yet given licenses in the northern states, where they are so obviously wanted.

These northern states expansion plans may be seen as preaching to the converted but these safe bases will be covered before any risky moves into AFL heartland.

Unfortunately, the suffering NRL fans in Adelaide and Perth will have to make do with the occasion live NRL game and Foxtel for the fore see able future.

Just like Wellington, the NRL will want to put in years of junior development before they would even consider this sort of move and even then it would probably require the relocation or extinction of an exsisting Sydney team.

Here’s who will not be with us:

The Cronulla Sharks
The sharkies are approximately ten million dollars in debt and the only reason St George bank are still supporting them is because they are land asset rich.

The insular peninsular, as Roy Masters called them, Cronulla are sandwiched between St George and Illawarra. If you believe the rumours, the NRL was none too happy when the Sharks knocked back the NRL offer to move them to the Central Coast.

Ominously, the Sharks’ requests to play home games at the Central Coast were knocked back by the NRL and David Gallop has refused to publicly back Cronulla’s future in the NRL.

So here’s my prediction for the 18 team line up for the 2020 NRL season: 10 NSW teams (8 in Sydney), 6 Qld teams, 1 ACT, 1 NZ.

Brisbane Broncos
Bulldogs
Canberra Raiders
Central Coast Centurions
Central Qld Comets
North Qld Cowboys
Gold Coast Titans
Ipswich Logan Wolves
Melbourne Storm
Newcastle Knights
Parramatta Eels
Penrith Panthers
South Sydney Rabbitohs
St George Illawarra Dragons
Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles
Sydney Roosters
New Zealand Warriors
West Tigers

This expansion prediction is using the assumption that the NRL continues its growth with TV ratings, crowd numbers, and memberships, which should allow for the depth to sustain 18 teams.

Also that we have an independent commission running the game who can make the tough decisions and that News Ltd no longer have NRL co-ownership, allowing for fairer future TV rights deals.

Also that the NRL brings back the reserve grade competition.

I’d be interested in anyone’s opinion on this and where I may have gone wrong. With the NRL growing the way it is, the next ten years or so will be very interesting as we see how the game evolves and shapes itself for a very bright future.

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