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The Wellington NRL bid team have revealed they are creating a joint consortium with Fiji known as the South Pacific Cyclones.
The bid team hope to boost rugby league in both the pacific islands and southern New Zealand with home games to be split equally between ANZ National Stadium, Suva, and Westpac Stadium, Wellington.
The announcement comes on the back of a rugby league boom in Fiji. The nation has become one of the most competitive teams, while producing stars such as NRL top tryscorer Semi Radradra, Penrith Panthers sensation Reagan Campbell-Gillard and rugby league legend Petero Civoniceva.
The joint bid has gained significant strength, arguably pushing ahead of the Perth bid as the preferred 18th NRL franchise after a second Brisbane team, as it will develop the game in New Zealand, Fiji and other islands in the region including Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands and Niue.
As it will not be solely based in Wellington, the Warriors’ supporter base isn’t likely to be diluted, yet the Cyclones are will provide healthy competition to the Auckland-based club.
The bid team’s spokesman Robert Picone made the announcement saying, “This is a great development for our bid as it satisfies the NRL’s plans of expanding into the Pacific Islands as well as New Zealand.
“It grows our catchment area of support and does not put too much competitive pressure on the Warriors.
“Added to this is the enormous talent pool of players in the Pacific Islands and New Zealand, being largely untapped and therefore not diluting existing talent in the current clubs, particularly in the mid-to-long term.”
It comes after David Smith resigned from his position of CEO earlier this week, and with the NRL hoping to increase the value of their broadcast rights deal, expansion appears to be back on the agenda.
Not only will it help expand the domestic product, the club could also be a huge asset to the international game by unearthing talent from the region and providing them with a regular taste of top-flight rugby league. This could lead to more participation at the game’s highest level.
Suva lies only 70 minutes flying distance from Auckland, making it accessible for NRL clubs, and three quarters of an hour closer to Sydney than Perth.
NRL head of strategy Shane Richardson will decide whether the NRL expands or not with the release of his report.
Other expansion areas on the agenda include Brisbane, Central Queensland, Perth, Central Coast and Papua New Guinea, with Adelaide also being viewed as an option despite no current bid team in the area.
With Richardson keen on first expanding second-tier competitions the New South Wales Cup and Queensland Cup, the South Pacific Cyclones will have to wait until at least 2018 to be admitted into the National Rugby League.
Only two more franchises are likely to be welcomed, however struggling Sydney teams may be forced to relocate offering more opportunity to expand.
Representatives of the bid team will meet with the NRL to discuss the proposal.