Should the NRL be limited to 16 teams?

MG Burbank Roar Guru

133 Have your say

    How will Melbourne Storm's deal with Manchester City affect the club? (Mark Kolbe/AAP)

    Related coverage

    Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith yesterday called for the NRL to tackle the AFL head-on and re-examine the issue of expansion.

    “I think overall everyone would agree we are a bit behind (the AFL) at the moment given they are a truly national game … if we want to grow the game and we want to be the best code in the country we need to expand,” Smith said.

    Expand how? TV audiences? Total crowds? Interest in AFL strongholds?

    Clearly expansion would be aimed at improvement in the last category. That said, gains can be made without having a team in a given city. More club games taken to Perth combined with better TV coverage could make a large dent in that kind of market.

    League can also vastly improve average crowd numbers. I think the ARLC’s blueprint for an average crowd of 20,000 by 2018 is a smart goal – realistic and achievable.

    If attained, that would qualify as ‘expansion’ of a kind, as would increasing junior numbers in league territories.

    But Cameron Smith isn’t talking about that. He wants teams in Perth, Adelaide, the south island of New Zealand and probably another in Brisbane.

    Which brings me to the last time League undertook a major expansion effort: 1995.

    Remember? Four new teams, without any contraction in Sydney, which meant 20 teams.


    It was a disaster. At least a third of the teams had no chance to compete, which is why 40 and 50 point blowouts were frequent.

    Is the salary cap more efficient than it was then? Probably. The worst teams in our current 16-team setup don’t look as bad as the ‘Sydney’ Tigers, South Sydney, Gold Coast, or the then-debutant Cowboys team.

    The cap has evened out talent to some extent. However, the primary question when facing expansion shouldn’t be whether or not we have enough talent to make all 18 teams reasonably competitive.

    The only question to ask must be: are there enough players to make the majority of teams watchable?

    Penrith was not fun to watch last year. Parramatta was a little better, thanks to comedy acts performed by Ben Roberts, Chris Sandow and the whole team joining together to make us laugh.

    St George-Illawarra were bland, with very little gamebreaking talent on display. Gold Coast has some nice kids but were still hard to sit through.

    Discipline, strong forward running, defensive commitment and enthusiasm might win you eight or nine games in a season. Maybe even close to half if you’re lucky.

    Which isn’t absolutely awful. You could even say you were a competitive team in most games.

    But that won’t attract new fans in Perth, Adelaide or Dunedin. Teams need talent.

    New fans will tell their friends about rugby league if they see brilliant running, clever sleight-of-hand playmaking, skillful kicking and destructive forward play that opens up the defence.

    I don’t think we have enough of those guys to justify 18 teams. Why do I think this? We’ve never had enough before.

    Oh, and NSW’s best halfback is Mitchell Pearce, its best fullback is a combination of Brett Stewart, Josh Dugan and Jarryd Hayne and its best five-eighth is … yeah.

    So we do one of two things. We stick with what we have, which is a fantastic competition with a decent spread of talent.

    Or we tag on two more teams and have a less-fantastic competition with a less-decent spread of talent, with the possibility of three or four Sydney Tiger 1995 reincarnations.

    Or – yep, I meant three things – we further rationalize Sydney, to make room for a Perth team and second Brisbane/New Zealand club.

    Guess which one I’d be voting for.

    Do you find yourself logged out of The Roar?
    We have just switched over to a secure site (https). This means you will need to log-in afresh. If you need help with recovering your password, please get in contact.

    If you could choose from any and every NRL player in the competition, who would you pick in your rugby league dream team? Let us know with our team picker right here, and be sure to share it with all your league-loving mates.

    Have Your Say

    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (133)

    • Roar Pro

      February 3rd 2013 @ 5:17am
      RMC said | February 3rd 2013 @ 5:17am | ! Report

      Personally I would like to see expansion. I would like to a club in Perth and another club in New Zealand.

      Having a club in Perth would help give us a more national game and may encourage more youth in Western Australia to take up rugby league. They should have a solid support base given every game Souths have taken to Perth has attracted solid crowds. Another possibly would be to make it a South-West team. They could be based in Perth, but also play a few games each year in Adelaide.

      Given the massive talent pool in New Zealand, the country deserves more than one team. It would strength their national side and may also result more players taking up league instead of union.

      Whilst you raise a fair point that adding more teams could affect the quality of the NRL, it may be worth it in the long term. If these clubs can attract more youth to the game, it would have a larger talent pool. Moreover it may result in superstar player taking up league. Dan Carter, for example is from the South Island of New Zealand. Who knows, if growing up he had a local NRL team to support he may of taken up league instead.

      On expansion I would also like to see the NRL look into having a PNG based QLD Cup team. They would need a lot of sponsorship, however that shouldn’t be an issue due to the mining companies in PNG. It would help the international national game and if it was successful could could lead to PNG having an NRL team in the long term.

      As much as I would love to see expansion, I believe the commission has made right decision postponing for now. The priory now should be ensuring the current 16 clubs remain viable. Furthermore if the game expands we need to ensure the new clubs can also be competitive and viable with compromising the current teams.

      But with a billion dollar TV deal surely the time will be right sooner rather than later for the game to expand.

      • February 3rd 2013 @ 2:29pm
        polly said | February 3rd 2013 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

        You are on the money with the PNG team & the NRL is already quite active up there. They’ll want to make sure they don’t neglect the area because I have noticed the increase of kids wearing AFL jerseys ( admittedly i spend most of my time in Port Moresby so perhaps it’s less in regional areas) & like aboriginal kids in Australia, these young kids take naturally to any game that requires hand eye co-ordination, ball skills, running & a bit of physical play. It isn’t a big leap ( no pun intended) to see them kicking a Sherrin rather than a Steeden.
        The local rugby league comp is shown on tv & being part of the QLD Cup would be massive, let alone the NRL. You could almost gaurantee that every working tv in the country would be tuned to the station that shows thos games & as long as it’s on free to air then it will be a winner.
        On another level, PNG is a mineral rich but socially poor country, the boost from having their own team in such a prestigious competition would be huge & lead to many improvements across the whole spectrum of the community. My only concern would be corporate governance, as there is still a lot of corruption & greasing of the wheels that goes on which undermines an effort like having a club & being involved with sponsors etc. If those issues can be overcome or managed then rugby league PNG style coming through the QLD Cup would definitely lead to the NRL & apart from Central QLD it is the real sure fire expansion region in my opinion.

    • February 3rd 2013 @ 7:11am
      Andy said | February 3rd 2013 @ 7:11am | ! Report

      “TV audiences” This is the main reason why the nrl should set up a team in WA, Perth. It is pretty much an untapped market for the nrl, and it could only benefit the league when the next broadcasting rights come around.

      • February 3rd 2013 @ 2:48pm
        polly said | February 3rd 2013 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

        It’s the exact reason why as good as their bid is, the Central Coast Bears will never get a spot. Sydney clubs are already struggling, they don’t want to share with a neighbour who takes away tv, crowds, merchandise etc. They’d rather have a team or teams which increase the dollar value of the tv deal but don’t cut into the rest of the revenue.

    • February 3rd 2013 @ 7:14am
      AndyMack said | February 3rd 2013 @ 7:14am | ! Report

      Why do so many people want to make RL a national game? Its not. Its heartland is NSW and QLD, and maybe more effort should be spent in ensuring it continues to prosper in those markets.

      • Roar Guru

        February 3rd 2013 @ 9:05am
        turbodewd said | February 3rd 2013 @ 9:05am | ! Report


        you are suggesting that fans never take up new sports. Can you pls explain the explosion in popularity of the UFC then?

        • February 3rd 2013 @ 3:15pm
          AndyMack said | February 3rd 2013 @ 3:15pm | ! Report


        • February 4th 2013 @ 11:14am
          mushi said | February 4th 2013 @ 11:14am | ! Report

          The decline of boxing

    • February 3rd 2013 @ 8:24am
      Phelpsy said | February 3rd 2013 @ 8:24am | ! Report

      Problem for rl is this if it wants to expand … When living in gippsland in Victoria and my son wanted to play rl … He couldn’t …. No rl clubs exist. He can play most other sports. Basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey, swimming, tennis…. But not rl ? There in lies your problem! The sport does not have a presence re: juniors… Or seniors for that matter

    • February 3rd 2013 @ 8:28am
      Sailosi said | February 3rd 2013 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      Could you imagine the standard of football with more teams.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [].

      • February 3rd 2013 @ 12:41pm
        Crosscoder said | February 3rd 2013 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

        Its better than it was with 14 teams and 12 teams IMO.Reason being the u20 comp develops players( not all of course),to graduate to the NRL with a good grounding in skills.
        The code years ago never had nor utilised the availability of Kiwi and Island talent that has since become self evident..
        The Togas who played for St George decades ago were the exception rather than the rule.

        The salary cap has made the 16 teams very competitive,to make picking a winner even harder today.Another 2 addtional teams means less going to the UK and France and less chance of players defecting to other codes or retiring before their foran and Mauro going over to Salford.

    • February 3rd 2013 @ 8:58am
      Robert said | February 3rd 2013 @ 8:58am | ! Report

      Why the need to expand and to be the best comp in australia?Expansion will only thin out the quality of players.And who decrees which code is the best?Each support thinks their code is the best.Im sure a staunch Melbourne Victory supporter reckons the A League is the best code.The NRL have a thing about which comp is the best and all it is about is their ego.All our codes can exist happily without needing to brag about which is better

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [].

      • February 3rd 2013 @ 10:41am
        BA Sports said | February 3rd 2013 @ 10:41am | ! Report

        Yes some is ego

        But You don’t want to become the small fish in the pond, because the others will eat you up.

        If you don’t have vision and try to be better, then you’re going backward.

        There isn’t enough talent for more than 16 teams. Move some Sydney teams interstate, they still play away games and an home game in Sydney so their old fans still see plenty of them and grow the game in Perth etc. Once you have more grass roots players coming through, then think about 18 teams.

        • February 4th 2013 @ 11:15am
          mushi said | February 4th 2013 @ 11:15am | ! Report

          Why does better = bigger. couldn’t better also = more important to current supporter base?

      • February 3rd 2013 @ 10:51am
        Ken said | February 3rd 2013 @ 10:51am | ! Report

        I don’t disagree with your premise but I would say it’s not all about ego.

        At this risk of over-analysing I would say it’s more about a feeling of replacing something that’s been lost… and not losing any more. Until recent times there was no clear dominant code in Australia, League was the biggest in one half and AFL was the biggest in the other. In the last couple of decades though RL supporters have seen their sport constrained by infighting and media ownership while the AFL has, comparatively, done everything right and built themselves up.

        Although it might grate to admit that AFL is now clearly bigger, I don’t think most RL really care if they are actually number 1. It’s more the concern that Australia isn’t that big, AFL have momentum (and the A-League is doing well too), if RL doesn’t make the best of it’s own situation it may lose relevance. Most of us just want our sport to fulfill it’s potential and not bring itself down, being number 1 is just an easy way to express that.

        I did warn at the top that this was possibly an over-analysis didn’t I…..?

    , , ,