Plight of North Sydney is too much to Bear
Before we get into the nitty gritty let me just put one thing on the record – I am not nor have I ever been a North Sydney Bears supporter. What I am first and foremost is a rugby league fan. When the Super League fiasco died down I was one of the lucky ones whose team was guaranteed a future. But some fans weren’t so fortunate.
Well before the days of mergers and expulsions, the NSWRL/ARL were already on the path to transforming a state competition into an Australian league. The Bears management at the time realised not every Sydney club would make the transition in their existing form – it was a case of adapt or die.
To this aim the Bears looked at the fringes of their heartland to the Central Coast, an area which had even been touted as an expansion prospect way back when Illawarra and Canberra first came into being.
It made logical sense – keep their existing North Sydney support base and grow the club on the adjacent overlooked coast. And so the club went about its business.
A war, a merger and an expulsion later, the Bears are in the wilderness and both North Sydney and Central Coast remain unrepresented. At the moment the new commission faces an interesting question – if the competition does expand, will the Central Coast make the cut?
What I would suggest to the commissioners is this – if the Central Coast is no longer a viable expansion location then the NRL should seek to set the Bears brand up elsewhere. Sure – you can have all the Orcas and Pirates you want – but why throw out a good club with a 104 year old history and a legion of fans in North Sydney and the Central Coast?
If Gosford isn’t going to happen within the next twenty years then the ARLC should work towards re-establishing the Bears brand in Perth, Brisbane or New Zealand as one of the next two expansion clubs – similar to the Lions and Swans in the AFL. Imagine seeing the red and black playing again and finally healing one of the game’s wounds.
The benefit is obvious – the Bears club would still have to travel to Sydney for games. The NRL could schedule games against clubs like the Eels, Tigers, Roosters & Sea Eagles etc – all clubs that border the traditional North Sydney territory.
So now you have an expansion club but one with the ability to bring a large group of away supporters to other clubs home games.
Plus it’s a brand that already has existing rivalries – the Bears could even play one home game at North Sydney Oval against the Sea Eagles, a game that would no doubt sell out year in, year out. That kind of revitalisation of interest on the north side of the harbour would do wonders for the game.
But the NRL also needs to make a final decision on the Central Coast. If it’s truly not going to be a full time team location then perhaps also the 4-5 neutral games should continue to be played there but they could feature the Bears as the away team. There is a Bears fan base that has been forged on the coast – don’t let it go to waste.