I’d love the NRL to have another crack at a draft (now that Terry Hill is long retired), but I don’t think the absence of a one impacts conferences. They’re two completely separate issues. By your logic, why don’t the Storm struggle to attract players??
Regarding a conference system that directly flows into the playoffs, there are models out there that are pretty fair. Under the conference structure and playoff system I’d have in mind, the finalists wouldn’t have changed over the last couple of seasons. It’s also important to note that there aren’t many purely ‘fair’ competition structures out there. As I said above, as it stands, there’s bias in the current NRL model and will be unless every team plays every other home and away.
How about the fact that most have spent the majority of their lives in Australia, developing through our pathways and playing for our representative sides. Sure, right now most wouldn't crack an AB's starting XV but don't kid yourself into thinking that moving back to NZ and representing the AB's would have ever been on the radar for any of them bar Harris (who's really lucky to have a Wallaby cap to his name). You're making yourself look silly if that's what you're getting at bud.
Townsville obviously exists. Rockies next in line and although I don't believe it's ready quite yet, CQ should be by the time the next round of expansion rolls around. Cairns has a population similar to Townsville's and Mackay similar to Rockhampton. All are league heartland's and have growing populations. I wouldn't expect these 4 teams to become a reality within the next 20 years but the it's pretty clear the NRL has an eye on them already. In 20 years time Queensland will have a population in excess of 7 million and Newman has clearly stated a desire to push a lot of this growth beyond the SE corner with job creation and other incentives for people to live in the north and west. It's his goal to have half of QLD in the SE corner and half occupying the rest of the state. Over 3 and a half million people deep within league territory is hard to ignore.