About twelve months ago, an ex-NRL first grader told me that rugby league in Perth was about to explode.
And he was right. Perth is primed for an NRL team.
With every passing year that volcano simmers and the inevitable eruption gets closer.
There are obvious reasons that the NRL should expand to Perth. We read about the bid in the media every day.
Prime TV slots, massive injections of money from mining magnates and cashed up sponsors in Western Australia. It’s all there, ready to go.
However, what people don’t realise is that it goes way beyond that.
The junior competition in Perth is strong. Granted, to someone who has seen junior rugby league on the east coast, it doesn’t compare favourably.
But take into account that Perth is thousands of miles from rugby league’s heartland and well and truly smack in the middle of AFL territory, and even the harshest critic will crack a wry smile and concede that it is doing well.
There are 10 junior clubs in Western Australia’s capital.
Mind you, that is only counting Perth and not other competitions around WA that are also very strong; the Pilbara is one that comes to mind.
Every one of these clubs has a proud tradition of rugby league, and boast a number of local juniors who have since gone on to play first grade in the NRL.
Rugby league was at its strongest in Perth when the Western Reds were in the national competition.
The reasons for this are obvious. They had a local presence in the strongest competition in the world and this created a distinct pathway for local juniors.
Interest in the game was huge, and everyone wanted to be a part of it.
Unfortunately for Perth, and WA as a whole, the fallout of the Super League war saw the ARL in damage control mode, and Perth were one of the casualties of a competition that was forced to withdraw to its heartland to rebuild.
This was understandable, but was a huge dagger in the heart of the fans in Western Australia, and did nothing to help the local clubs compete against a rising passion for AFL and the Eagles.
Fast forward to today. The situation in Perth has done almost a full 360 and interest has peaked once more.
Why? The mining boom is one big reason.
People don’t realise how many people from the eastern states have moved into Perth in the past five years.
The city of Perth has literally doubled in size recently, and there are more rugby league supporters in the city than ever.
Add to that the local Kiwi population, and the passion is running deeper than it ever has before. All it needs is a kick start to get it moving. The NRL can provide that kick start.
Local players are striving as hard as they can to show the rest of Australia they have what it takes.
Western Australia compete in the Affiliated States Championships every year, which consists of all the states outside of the traditional NSW, Queensland and ACT.
Last year, the open mens won that championship, while the 18s proved they were no easy beats by making the final.
In the 15’s, however, Western Australia dominated and won the title undefeated, showing Australia well and truly what the local juniors are capable of.
The West Coast Pirates bid also runs an U15s academy in conjunction with its U18s SG Ball team.
This academy recently completed a tour of Sydney where they, too, went undefeated. Amongst the scalps they came home with was the Manly Warringah Harold Mathews team, and the South West Sydney Academy.
Neither of those teams are easy beats.
It’s these sorts of results that the NRL needs to be taking notice of. Western Australia is by far and away the strongest state for the game away from NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
For the game to expand it needs to go somewhere different.
While a team will be able to survive on the Central Coast, or do well on the outskirts of Brisbane, is it really expanding the game?
If the next Andrew Johns is currently playing U12s in Wyong, or Ipswich, he is going to get noticed.
There are NRL clubs already a short kick down the road.
If, however, he is playing in South Perth, it would take a minor miracle for him to be seen, and the game may just lose him to rugby union.
Because like it or not, the Western Force is a strong presence in Perth, and they offer a clear road to the big time.
Rugby league does not. Yet.
If the NRL is serious on expansion, it has to take the game elsewhere.
I’m not saying that the other bids are lesser bids. In fact I think they are fantastic. But the game needs to expand, not crowd an already crowded market.
Head to Perth, Mr Smith. You won’t regret it.