Following on from last week’s article ranking the NRL expansion bids, here is Part II. This part reveals those ranked number three to number one
Fan support, corporate sponsorship, infrastructure, and the stage of advancement of the bid, as well as which proposal would best serve the purpose of growing the game while still having a realistic chance of success, have all been weighed.
So here it is, the three bids that finish on the podium for the next round of NRL expansion.
Number 3 – Brisbane Bombers or Brisbane Brothers
The arguments for a second club in Brisbane are so well established that the inclusion of a second NRL side in rugby league’s modern heartland would appear the only logical choice at first glance.
Dave Smith is already on record as saying that he believes South East Queensland deserves another NRL team. The objective evidence for that argument is undeniable.
State of Origin games are sold out months in advance, which is a feat that New South Wales doesn’t come close to matching. Queensland also boast a world-class stadium from which to view rugby league.
And of course, there is the lure of being able to break the Broncos two-decades long dominance over the NRL fans of Brisbane, as well to tap the pool of corporate sponsorship that they benefit from.
A second club would also create a genuine cross-town rivalry, the type of fixture that every code thrives on.
The attractiveness of Brisbane is so strong that there is already in intra-city brawl to be the number one bid.
In the Blue corner is the longer established and very slick Brisbane Bombers operation, which incredibly already has merchandise for sale on its website! This ties into the ethos of the team that is aiming for on a businesslike structure, rather than that of a community-owned club.
The weaknesses of the bid include questions about its base. The Broncos have one of the largest supporter bases of any club, but how many of those would defect to the Bombers?
Also, Brisbane is unique. The league fans there are not automatically Broncos fans as well.
While those who support other clubs may adopt the Bombers as a ‘second’ club, there is no reason why they would trade in their Bulldogs or Storm jerseys for Bombers ones.
This grassroots support deficiency is addressed by the recent arrival of the Brisbane Brothers Leprechauns bid in the red corner. Yes, Leprechauns. Stupid name aside, the Grange-based club has a rich history. They won the QRL premiership in 1987 before the formation of the Broncos and the advent of the modern ARL/NRL era.
Many Broncos supporters recall the Brothers days with fond memories.
There are 40 Brothers clubs established in 14 cities. The ranks of current NRL stars that graduated from Brothers clubs include Cameron Smith, Daly Cherry-Evans, Sam Thaiday and Billy Slater. That’s a pretty handy junior development pathway.
But a Brothers bid is already a long way behind its main rival, and the details need to be worked out quickly, a factor that the bid chief has already conceded will be “challenging”.
Ultimately, whichever bid is chosen, a decision to establish a new club in Brisbane there will split the current fan-base there, rather than grow the game. The bids that come in a number two and number one don’t suffer this problem as they would both fit the bill of truly “expanding” the NRL.
Number 2 – West Coast Pirates
The Perth Reds were one of the worst casualties of the Super League war. A promising side that finally put a league presence on the western coastline also tapped into a real desire for an alternative to the AFL hegemony.
Their death was a combination of poor timing and moronic decision making. The worst example was burdening the Reds with the cost of visiting teams’ airfares.
The bill ballooned to $10 million, and the club was crushed under the weight of it.
In the intervening years every other code has got the jump on league in WA. The AFL has consolidated their hold, with West Coast and Fremantle both enjoying success.
The Western Force have also begun to gain traction in Super Rugby, while the nascent A-League also had the foresight to put a team there. Even the NBL has made inroads, with Perth Wildcats drawing over 10,000 to their games on the back of a strong community-engagement program.
All of this goes to show that the appetite for alternatives to AFL in the west can be fed with a strong team and a connection to the local fan-base. The WA Pirates bid already has this is spades, with a junior team in the national S.G. Ball Cup.
Participation at all other levels is also phenomenal when you consider that there are no local teams to support at the top level. All up there are 29 senior teams in four grades competing.
Demographics also support a local team with an unprecedented amount of cross-country migration occurring in the last 10 years as a result of the mining boom.
NRL is well attended when ‘foreign’ clubs when teams bring their home games there, and the redevelopment of NIB Stadium takes it past a lot of grounds that currently host NRL matches.
The query about the bid comes from whether they can successfully attract the players and resources required to build a competitive club, especially with the nursery of juniors that produces the vast majority of NRL players based on the east coast.
Local depth and talent is also a problem, with the S.G. Ball Pirates team anchored to the bottom of the ladder in their 18-team competition. In addition, making an impression on the crowded sporting landscape in the state will take time and patience on the part of the NRL and the Pirates, especially as the team learns its trade and how to cope with arduous road trips.
Putting a league team in WA makes sense, and gives the code the chance to correct one of the worst mistakes of it’s past. It is embarrassing that every other sports code in Australia has a top-flight presence in the west, while league does not.
Number 1 – Papua New Guinea Hunters
The numbers in favour of a Papua New Guinea NRL bid are so strong that they are frightening. The game was introduced to the country by World War II servicemen from Australia and New Zealand.
Fast-forward to 2014 and 15,000 active top grade players in over 280 clubs play it every week. The appetite for the game is unmatched anywhere in the world, with over 50,000 turning up to Port Moresby airport to welcome the team back after their World Cup campaign.
Oh, and it’s the national sport. That means 7.1 million Papuans would be behind any club that bore their national colours.
Games between clubs and villages have State of Origin like tribalism, and it is the only game that is played in schools. Kids aspire to play in the NRL and the country grinds to a halt when big games are played.
This grassroots support is already on show in the crowds for the Papua New Guinea Hunters team, who gained admission to the Queensland Cup this year. The team is performing well above expectations, sitting third out of thirteen clubs.
This apprenticeship is another attractive feature in favour of the bid. Of any of the bid teams, Papua New Guinea is the only one that is competing regularly in a high-quality senior competition.
By the time expansion rolls around, they will have gained valuable experience, both on the field, and off it in learning the back office skills needed to run a professional football club. Throw in high-level government support from the national government and the ducks really begin to line-up.
The negatives are easy to spot. Infrastructure is a problem. Security has also been a concern, as demonstrated in past Prime Ministers XIII games. The financial cost of a team based in Papua New Guinea, playing as far and wide as Melbourne and Auckland, would also be high. There would also me less corporate support for the club.
However, if the NRL is serious about growing the game, it would sit down at the table with the bid team and Papua New Guinea and Australian government to work out these issues. The numbers that matter in favour of the bid are just too compelling to ignore.
Ultimately, whether you go favour the Papua New Guinea Hunters or the West Coast Pirates bid is a matter of how much you like to gamble. The West Coast Pirates have less upside, but are more likely to succeed in the short term.
However, the Papua New Guinea Hunters bid gives a much higher ultimate reward in 10 years time, but with higher risks attached.
Over to you Roarers. Time to hear your thoughts.