An expansionist ideal: Part 1 – NRL

Mark Campbell Roar Guru

By Mark Campbell, Mark Campbell is a Roar Guru

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    In 2012, the National Rugby League decided that no expansion would take place until after the 2022 season.

    However, since that time there has been little information regarding the criteria for any future expansion. In fact, many within the game continue to argue against expansion.

    The arguments against expansion include:

    1. Lack of player depth;
    2. No expansion should occur until all current teams are financially viable;
    3. Lack of central funds

    The NRL should hear these reasons, but they should not be the guidelines for which expansion is considered. These arguments can easily be countered.

    Firstly, the lack of player depth should not be relevant when a salary cap is in place. If the salary cap is monitored correctly, then the talent should be evenly spread meaning that games should be close-fought contests. Naturally, the importance here is on the monitoring of the cap.

    Secondly, the financial viability of teams. From the 2018 season onwards clubs receive 30 per cent above the salary cap. If they can not be sustainable with this, then new management must be implemented within these clubs.

    They should all run at a profit now or the very least break-even. The NRL won’t continue to prop clubs up now if they are not performing financially.

    Finally, the lack of central funds should not matter. If new teams entered, then the percentage of revenue handed out to the clubs would be split 18/20 ways instead of the current 16.

    If expansion is what the NRL wants then clubs and players must realise that it may mean that future salary caps do not rise as much as they like if at all, or in fact may go down a little. No doubt you think pigs will fly before the NRL and clubs allow that to happen. Regardless, I’m still hoping for the best.

    Since the arguments against expansion can be countered, the arguments that follow are based on how many teams should be included and where these teams should be located. There is a wide range of views regarding expansion bids.

    Do we expand into non-traditional markets or consolidate rugby league strongholds? These opinions, although valid, miss the primary factor that should be key – value.

    Konrad Hurrell scores in front of a ground record crowd during the Round 17 NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the New Zealand Warriors at NIB Stadium in Perth

    Rugby league in Perth (AAP/Action Photographics, Colin Whelan)

    The value includes the clubs sustainability, membership, junior links and fan support as well as corporate support. Ultimately, the value indicates whether the club can add to the competition or subtracts from the competition.

    So let’s analyse the different bids that have expressed interest over the years and see if they would add value or not the competition.

    In the South-East there has been a range of bids. The Brisbane Bombers, Brothers Leprechauns, Western Corridor, and Redcliffe. Naturally, only one of these proposals would be successful.

    The positives for a Brisbane team are many. Brisbane is the third largest city in Australia. A game each week in Brisbane makes sense for broadcasters.

    This additional game could mean that Brisbane might get the much desired Sunday afternoon game. The corporate support would be there. Not all the major companies can sponsor the Broncos, having another team allows the option for big business to support another team.

    Fan support shouldn’t be a problem, although they wouldn’t be as big as the Broncos. However, if they were successful over time, then eventually it is possible that they might rival the Broncos.

    The negative is that the area is an over-crowded sports market. The Gold Coast Titans are struggling and possibly so would any new team in the south-east. Fair point I suppose. Also, it has is argued that a second team would dilute the Brisbane fan-base rather than add to it.

    Overall, I feel the positives do outweigh the negatives, and a Brisbane bid would enhance the competition. So what about the individual bids? Who should progress?

    The Brisbane Bombers were advised to enter a team into the Queensland Cup. They refused arguing that a new identity was needed to combat the Broncos brand. They indicated that putting a team in the Q-Cup would remove the freshness of their brand. It’s the NRL or nothing for this bid. All of their home games would play out of Suncorp Stadium.

    The Leprechauns were formally in some fashion part of the old Brisbane Rugby League. They have Leagues clubs all over the state and have a vast amount of support at their disposal. Although, the Ipswich branch of the Leprechauns is supporting the Western Corridor bid, they indicated that they would play 6-8 games out of Suncorp and the remaining 4-6 games in regional areas of Queensland.

    In essence, the Western Corridor Bid is an Ipswich Jets bid. Some games would be played at Suncorp, but long term they would be hoping to be based out of Ipswich. They have an excellent junior base in a growing area.

    Fan support is limited due to the club’s current placing in the Q-Cup. I’m sceptical if this support would increase enough to support an NRL level team.

    Redcliffe Dolphins – A progressive club based on the very northern edges of greater Brisbane. Games would play out of Suncorp. However, they may struggle with fans as other people of Brisbane might not follow a Q-Cup team similar to the situation for the Western Corridor bid team.

    Personally, I feel the Brisbane Bombers offers the most. It is fresh and new and would be in fact a Brisbane team. The Ipswich and Redcliffe teams should remain in the Q-Cup where I feel they add the most value. Although many argue against the expansion of the Q-Cup, it would be good to see the Brothers club re-join this competition – if financially viable.

    Therefore, if we take the Brisbane Bombers bid to be the best bid for the South-East, then we can pool it with other bids – Central Coast Bears, Central Queensland, Papua New Guinea, Wellington N.Z and Perth. I don’t think any Adelaide franchise have expressed an interest, so I have not included them in this list.

    Papua New Guinea Hunters

    (Supplied)

    The Central Coast is the ninth largest region in Australia. Not only that, by continuing the brand of the Bears it keeps the history of the North Sydney club active at the elite level. It reconnects fans that have been lost to the game.

    The Central Coast and North Sydney regions provide the fan support that every club needs. The corporate support may be lacking in the Central Coast region, but it certainly is not lacking in the North Sydney area. Central Coast Stadium would host most season games while North Sydney Oval could host friendlies.

    This bid brings a feel-good factor back to the game similar to when South Sydney was readmitted into the competition. Curious to see how viable the club would be long term though. I like this bid.

    Central Queensland is home to roughly 230,000 people. The bid team indicate that 450,000 people live within a 3.5-hour drive to where games would be played.

    They also claim that if a bid would be successful, then the government would assist in the building of a stadium. Despite being in a rugby league heartland, one wonders if they could get the crowds needed to support an NRL team. I feel it may struggle.

    The West Coast Pirates based out of the fourth largest city in Perth makes a lot of sense. It opens a new market concerning fans and corporate support. It provides the game and broadcasters with another timeslot. The critical indicator would be sustainability. If the front office was well run, then this club should be a success. I like this bid.

    Wellington could be another option for the game. The club offers New Zealand fans another team to support other than the Warriors. It provides the code with another time-slot for broadcasters. It would have a city to itself – not counting the rugby union Hurricanes.

    Fan support might be an issue. Not a large number of people from Wellington have attended games in the past. Remember all the empty seats for the New Zealand and Fiji quarter-final at the World Cup. One bid group did suggest they would play games in Hamilton and in the Pacific to gain more support.

    Peta Hiku New Zealand Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRLPhotos/Nathan Hopkins)

    I feel that this proposal has more potential then Central Queensland, however, at the moment the bid still seems in its infancy. Ideally, if a team out of Wellington is not in the NRL it then should be participating in the NSW Cup.

    The Papua New Guinea Hunters decided to enter into the Q-Cup when the Bombers did not. Getting the fan and corporate support would not be a problem for a team that would represent a nation. I can’t argue too much with this bid other to say that a stadium holding 14,500 is not quite big enough for the NRL competition.

    I recognise the atmosphere at the ground would enhance the viewing of the NRL as it did for the World Cup, I am not sure how much a Papua New Guinea team would increase the broadcasting rights value for the sport. Ideally, a team out of Papua New Guinea should continue to participate in the Q-Cup even if an NRL license is granted or not.

    Personally, if it were up to me to decide, I would go for a 20-team NRL competition. I admit to being in the rugby league expansion camp.

    Though, I recognise that money is the required ingredient and in all likelihood, no expansion will occur in 2023 or if it did, it most likely, would only rise by two to 18 teams.

    Regardless, the teams that I would include would be:

    17th team – The Brisbane Bombers
    18th team – The West Coast Pirates
    19th team – The Central Coast Bears
    20th team – Wellington, with PNG a close second.

    In future, to obtain an Adelaide team, I would look to offer money to a Sydney team to relocate. Clubs would have to want to move. I wouldn’t force any club to relocate as this would only alienate more fans. A move to Adelaide however, would allow for the NRL footprint to expand into a truly national competition.

    Obviously, many don’t see the need for expansion. Also, fans see club greed as a stoppage to the growth of the game. These views are well justified. I note that this outline is merely an opinion based purely on a hypothetical outcome.

    Regardless, I do hope to see the game expand and I think in the future if the game is adequately managed then 20 teams could survive and thrive in a national competition.

    Naturally, all of this is my opinion. Do you think the NRL should expand in 2023?

    If the NRL decided to expand the competition in 2023 and beyond, how many teams should be added and where do you think clubs should be located?

    Have Your Say



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    The Crowd Says (89)

    • January 21st 2018 @ 7:27am
      jeff dustby said | January 21st 2018 @ 7:27am | ! Report

      if out of ideas you can write an expansion article. looking forward to reading the same arguments that have been expressed by the same people in the comments for the past decade

      • January 21st 2018 @ 7:43am
        Jimmmy said | January 21st 2018 @ 7:43am | ! Report

        See below for my standard answer . Written for the tenth time. I just can’t seem to restrain myself. ,!!

      • January 21st 2018 @ 7:02pm
        Fix the scrums said | January 21st 2018 @ 7:02pm | ! Report

        And there it is!
        The years 1st expansion article with a well used picture of a Perth grandstand (mostly filled by holders of free tickets).
        Gotta laugh.

        • January 21st 2018 @ 7:30pm
          Cathar Treize said | January 21st 2018 @ 7:30pm | ! Report

          Gotta laugh at you not having a clue

          • January 21st 2018 @ 8:51pm
            RandyM said | January 21st 2018 @ 8:51pm | ! Report

            another year and Your Kidding and Fix the Scrums back with their doom and gloom predictions for the NRL.

    • January 21st 2018 @ 7:40am
      Jimmmy said | January 21st 2018 @ 7:40am | ! Report

      Mate , you say lack of player depth should not be an issue because the salary cap will even things out resulting in close games . This answer does not address the issue. There really is a lack of absolute quality players in the NRL as it stands at the moment . Once you get past the top stratum of players in each side the quality drops off quickly.
      In my opinion we barely have the talent for 16 top quality sides let alone 18 or 20.
      Diluteing the quality of our teams is the quickest way to sporting oblivion.
      Sixteen teams it is for mine. Where these teams should be based is another question.

      • January 21st 2018 @ 8:06am
        jamesb said | January 21st 2018 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        If we start to see players coming through from pacific island countries like Fiji and PNG, then the player pool would increase, and there be enough players for expansion.

        Last year, there was only three PNG born players in the NRL (Mead, McDonald and Segeyaro). If that number increased to 20, not only would it help with NRL expansion, but it would improve the PNG national side significantly.

        • January 21st 2018 @ 8:24am
          BA Sports said | January 21st 2018 @ 8:24am | ! Report

          You didn’t watch the QLD Cup final ad State Championship match then? That is where the majority of the next 17 PNG players were. They were the best of the QLD Cup and they are miles away from being NRL players. MILES

          • January 21st 2018 @ 8:52am
            jamesb said | January 21st 2018 @ 8:52am | ! Report

            I think there are number of PNG players that are affliated with NRL clubs. An example was the late Kato Ottio, who was with Canberra, but was playing for the Mounties.

            And I didn’t watch the Qld Cup GF because I am from NSW and i didn’t have access to it. With the State Championship, maybe they suffered stage fright.

            • January 21st 2018 @ 1:47pm
              BA Sports said | January 21st 2018 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

              You’re right Katio Ottio (rest his soul), was with an NRL club, but he wasn’t an NRL standard player and was headed to the UK because he wasn’t going to get a start in the NRL. So that doesn’t support your argument

              • January 21st 2018 @ 4:32pm
                jamesb said | January 21st 2018 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

                We will never know what sort of potential Ottio had. He could’ve had a couple of great years playing in England, then come back to the NRL a much more seasoned experienced player. Sam Moa only played one game for Cronulla, went to Hull, then came back to the NRL with the Roosters and won a premiership.

                And as for the PNG players been miles away from the NRL, only time will tell.

          • Roar Guru

            January 21st 2018 @ 10:46am
            Nat said | January 21st 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

            BA, That game was a whitewash for sure but that was not the PNG team (mentally) that dominated the Q Cup. I cannot explain why they played so poorly but to assume their was so much passion and celebration after their Q Cup win that their heads just weren’t there for the State clash. A better example was the WC, where all but a few were from the Hunters and they were very competitive on the international stage. They got better every year in Q Cup and they will go another level again if afforded an NRL bid.

            • January 21st 2018 @ 1:49pm
              BA Sports said | January 21st 2018 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

              Yes Nat but the QLD Cup GF was a dreadful standard as well. If the players aren’t up to playing on the big stage, how are they going to win in the NRL? The World Cup isn’t a better example because it is a short tournament, not a 26 week season.

              • Roar Guru

                January 21st 2018 @ 1:57pm
                Emcie said | January 21st 2018 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

                I’ve seen a lot of NRL games that were much worse then those two, I think you may be overating the standard of NRL games by a fair margin

              • Roar Guru

                January 21st 2018 @ 5:20pm
                Nat said | January 21st 2018 @ 5:20pm | ! Report

                I’m not sure where you are from BA but the Q Cup has been widely regarded as the 2nd tier comp to the NRL It’s 2 each since inception and Qld has won 7/10 previous residents games. As I said, it would be a mistake to judge the whole comp by that game.

      • Roar Guru

        January 21st 2018 @ 10:13am
        Emcie said | January 21st 2018 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        I don’t really buy the lack of player depth arguement, there’s only 16 clubs playing first grade, surely in the whole of the NRLs reach theres more then 16 players capable of playing say halfback at an acceptible level. I mean seriously, there’s a fair few clubs that have multiple halves/fullbacks/hookers on the books and spend most of the season looking to find the best way to fit them into the team, and thats without even considering the ammount of players that go over to super league

    • January 21st 2018 @ 8:22am
      BA Sports said | January 21st 2018 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      Sorry – I read your “attempts” to counter what you identified as the three issues holding back expansion and your counters to these issues do not come close to addressing those issues,

      Player depth: Salary caps don’t fix player depth. If you expand to 18 teams you need two more first grade calibre halfbacks, two more first grade calibre fullbacks etc. These players don’t exist. Whether the salary cap is $10m or $20m, there are not enough players out there of first grade standard.

      We’ll skip to your third point and come back to point two.
      Central funds: News flash, players don’t give a crap about the long term viability of the sport. Players are never going to agree to a reduction in salary caps and player payments. – See NBA lockout of 2011. And rugby league doesn’t have enough depth in its passionate fan base to survive a strike. Infact there is strong belief that if contested in court, the Salary Cap would be considered a restraint of trade and the Players would have the ability to demand it be scrapped. Central funds would have to increase through improved broadcast deals and sponsorship arrangements. This may be possible with new markets introduced and more games on a schedule, but broadcast deals are not guaranteed to continue to rise with the onset of online Television bringing many unknowns.

      So bringing it back around to your second point..
      Club viability: I agree 100%, management standard needs to be improved. Clubs need to pay more and attract better quality CEO”s, Marketing Manager’s etc. But, as per above, if you increase the number of teams, the amount of funds being shared is reduced, so where are clubs getting the money to invest in top quality managers?

      Your piece is long, and I will admit I haven’t read the whole thing, because the opening was not really well thought out in my opinion (sorry).

      This article will get 150 comments as “expansion” articles always do and everyone can have an opinion. But in a nutshell I would be surprised if anyone can make the argument for there being enough players – I watch multiple u/20 and NSW Cup matches a week and the depth isn’t there. There isn’t enough money – there is barely enough to grow the game while support 16 clubs – particularly when you have so many clubs fighting for fans and sponsor dollars in the same city. If you want to relocate an existing Sydney franchise, go right ahead, that is the only viable way based on the fan depth and junior and senior player depth to grow the game.

      • January 21st 2018 @ 11:45am
        Birdy said | January 21st 2018 @ 11:45am | ! Report

        BA Sports,
        I don’t see many junior or even regional grade games anymore.
        Do you really believe we don’t have player depth for expansion or, as bought up on the roar from time to time that coaching , training ,admin is the real problem.
        My last full weekend at a junior festival was an u/13s carnival at Wynnum.
        It was like watching first grade 20 years ago.

      • Roar Guru

        January 22nd 2018 @ 10:45am
        Mantis said | January 22nd 2018 @ 10:45am | ! Report

        “If you expand to 18 teams you need two more first grade calibre halfbacks, two more first grade calibre fullbacks etc. These players don’t exist.”

        Who says these players dont exist? Quality players, for whatever reason, fall through the cracks in juniors more often than they should. Look at Cody Walker as an example; he didnt get a crack at first grade until his mid 20s, now hes near the first name on Souths team sheet.

        There are juniors that dont play NRL who arguably should and could – more teams give them new pathways to make this happen.

        • January 22nd 2018 @ 10:59am
          Bearfax said | January 22nd 2018 @ 10:59am | ! Report

          Totally agree with you Mantis. The suggestions that there isnt enough talent is a line often put forward in the media, by officials worried they will lose some of their payers to new clubs. AFL and soccer would not be making such inroads in NSW if we had more positions available in Rugby League. AFL has 18 teams and each first grade team has 18 players and four bench players. Total, 396 players to League 272. But you dont hear them carrying on about insufficient talent.

          • January 22nd 2018 @ 2:53pm
            BA Sports said | January 22nd 2018 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

            That is because there is way more juniors playing Australian rules football than rugby league.

            I say there are not enough players of NRL standard because I watch multiple NSW Cup matches a week, and a few years ago I was watching multiple QLD Cup games a week. Its just my opinion, but I see the skill gap.

            I also lived through Super league (like everyone) and saw just how bad the standard became – and we have less players to draw on now, than we did then.

            Here are your NSW Cup halves pairings from 2017

            Penrith; (premiers) Darren Nichols and Jarome Luai
            Tigers; Bayley Sironen and Veiru Mapesone
            Bears: Adam Doueihi and Luke Kelly
            Knights: Jalen Feeny and Jack Cogger
            Roos; Jayden Nikorima and Mitch Cornish
            Dogs: Josh Cleeland and Lachlan Lewis
            Wenty: Troy Dargan and Jeff Robson
            Mounties: Lachlan Croker and Isaac John
            Warriors: Sam Cook and Mason Lino
            Illawarra: Drew Hutchison and Adam Clune
            Jets: Tyla Tamou and Manumalealii
            Workers: Pita Godinet and Jackson Hastings

            That is 24 halves. None of them are currently NRL standard players, a handful are decent backups and a handful are still developing. But for your 20 team comp you need at least 4 of these guys as every day starters right now and someone from below (a lesser standard or even younger) these guys will become their back ups.

            That is just halves – multiply that out by hookers, fullbacks, backrowers, props and outside backs that can actually defend – and all of the new reserves you need to find. Please don’t tell me there are enough players for a 20 team comp.

            • January 22nd 2018 @ 3:12pm
              RandyM said | January 22nd 2018 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

              on the other hand Benji Marshall was a backup last season. Moylan who played origin 2 years ago almost didn’t have a club.

              Many clubs actually have a decent backup half, just because they are not Cooper Cronk doesn’t mean they cant play first grade.

              • January 22nd 2018 @ 3:58pm
                BA Sports said | January 22nd 2018 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

                So if the back-ups are so good – remind me why nobody ever goes to watch them? Less than 150 people watched the NSW Cup semi final double header at Jubilee Oval last year. The Dogs, Illawarra, NZ and Knights all played – The Knights probably had the most supporters…

              • January 22nd 2018 @ 4:05pm
                RandyM said | January 22nd 2018 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

                probably because its NSW cup… what does how many fans show up have to do with their ability to play NRL?

              • January 22nd 2018 @ 4:55pm
                BA Sports said | January 22nd 2018 @ 4:55pm | ! Report

                If they were good players, people would take advantage of the cheap ticket prices to come and watch – people other than friends and family.

                There are plenty of football fans in the far north and plenty on the Gold Coast – but when the A-League expanded beyond its means, nobody went to watch because they were given players that nobody cared about. Gold Coast and North Queensland own two of the four worst average attendances in the history of the league – about 4,000 per match for a season.

                If the NRL don’t learn from others mistakes they are fools.

              • January 22nd 2018 @ 7:35pm
                Stormer said | January 22nd 2018 @ 7:35pm | ! Report

                Sorry you confused me when you said “football fans”. Just call it soccer. I’m not sure why people are vowing to the soccer crowd who want to monopolise the term “football” which can be applied to a lot more than one game.

              • Roar Guru

                January 24th 2018 @ 10:08am
                Mantis said | January 24th 2018 @ 10:08am | ! Report

                So because no one turns up to watch them play they arent an NRL quality half? ok mate strong argument….

                A lot of players are as good as the players they play with – how many of these halves would improve when put in an nrl team compared to a nsw cup side i dont know, but itd be interesting to see.

      • January 22nd 2018 @ 12:58pm
        Mushi said | January 22nd 2018 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

        “Infact there is strong belief that if contested in court, the Salary Cap would be considered a restraint of trade and the Players would have the ability to demand it be scrapped.”

        Where is this belief? The ruling that scrapped the draft endorsed the cap.

        It is definitely a restraint of trade (as every contract is) but the courts have effectively ruled on it.

        • January 22nd 2018 @ 3:54pm
          BA Sports said | January 22nd 2018 @ 3:54pm | ! Report

          The Courts ruled the Salary cap was reasonable providing the draft was lifted – the combination of the two restraints was deemed to collectively impact the players rights.

          But since then further restraints have grown around the players ability to earn money outside their contract and the limit to what products and services players are allowed to endorse under TPA’s is getting tighter and tighter as the NRL strives to increase its sponsorship net.

          The Salary Cap can survive if it is seen to be in the best interest of the players because it retains business strength and provides an even competition that will support financial growth. But if someone was able to show the Salary Cap was holding back the league’s earning capacity and the players earning capacity – it would come under heavy scrutiny if challenged… Or so is the opinion of a Sports Law professor i was having a beer with over the Summer.

    • January 21st 2018 @ 8:49am
      Paul C said | January 21st 2018 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      Good article Mark. Central Coast is on. Central Qld is probably dead as the “CQ leagues Club Bid” Clubhouse has been sold & I fear there is little interest locally. On expansion in Brisbane, I say “remember the Crushers”. The Gold Coast is the 2nd team in SE Qld as it is based in the GC, not in the Tweed ( it was registered originally as NSW Team). The GC has struggled for years & hopefully under their new management it will prosper on the field as well as off. Adelaide in Super League in its last game beat a Sydney team (Wests) by 50 & had a crowd of 16 thousand attending. How many Sydney teams average 16 thousand for the year? Perth would be great with the time difference for the two TV Stations covering the games. Leave the Kiwis alone & let them improve before any expansion in NZ.

      • January 21st 2018 @ 10:46am
        RandyM said | January 21st 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        Central Coast is never going to happen as expansion. Seriously another team between Newcastle and Sydney? It’s like the AFL putting a team in Torquay beach. CC will get some Roosters and Manly games and maybe one day a Sydney club will relocate their permanently.

      • January 22nd 2018 @ 7:37pm
        Stormer said | January 22nd 2018 @ 7:37pm | ! Report

        Yes, Adelaide is viable and likely to draw big crowds regularly.

    • January 21st 2018 @ 9:17am
      Justin Kearney said | January 21st 2018 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      I’d start with Perth and Brisbane and then include Wellington the central coast after that. Perth is ready to go. Has been for years. Adelaide is currrently a big no.

    • January 21st 2018 @ 9:43am
      Norad said | January 21st 2018 @ 9:43am | ! Report

      Expansion will only come with contraction. The NRL comp must move to teams of 11 players + 2 interchange. Saves costs and more entertaining. Would plenty of players to fill 24 teams.

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