In Part 1 of this article, I analysed possible expansion of the NRL to include a team from the following: Brisbane, Perth, the Central Coast, and either Wellington or Papua New Guinea.
However, what was not covered were the leagues below the elite level. What about any possible expansion for the Queensland Cup or New South Wales Cup?
The Queensland Cup, it could be argued, is the next premier rugby league competition in the sport. It is a very well organised competition, while the New South Wales Cup consolidates a lot of the fringe players striving to make their way into the numerous NSW-based NRL clubs.
The future aim of the game is for every NRL side to be aligned with two teams in either the NSW Cup or Q-Cup. So if the NRL is to expand to 18 or 20 teams, then ideally the state cups would consist of the same amount of sides.
Since my proposal for expansion in the NRL consisted of 20 teams, the following idea highlights a Q-Cup and NSW Cup that comprises 20 teams. I recognise that there are numerous problems with such a proposal. There would be finance and resource concerns without mentioning player talent availability, however, with smart management and planning, anything is achievable.
So how do the state-based competitions expand to the possible number of teams required without being detrimental to the overall wellbeing of the sport?
The answer for this is the link between the state and regional level. By this, I mean every country region should be linked to a state-based team.
For example, any player in the Gold Coast Rugby League or the Northern Rivers competition in country NSW could potentially secure themselves a position with either the Burleigh Bears or the Tweed Heads Seagulls.
This link provides a clear pathway for players and develops stronger ties between clubs and the code. Obviously, the devil is in the detail, but again if appropriately managed could work.
So what teams would be added to each competition to bring them up to the 18/20 team mark?
Firstly, I’ll start with the Queensland Cup. I would like to see the return of some proud clubs to the highest level of Queensland rugby league.
Bring back the Toowoomba Clydesdales. I know finances were an issue.
There may have been political issues within the Toowoomba Rugby League that hindered its progress before. Despite this, the region is crying out for a higher level of representation in rugby league.
I indicated in Part 1 that the Brothers Leprechauns had launched a bid for the NRL. However, I feel that a Q-Cup entry would be more appropriate. They could add some financial clout to the league.
Another team could be the Western Suburbs Panthers. I know that they also suffered from financial issues. The same could be said for Valleys. Despite this, it would be good to see these clubs return to a higher level.
With the addition of these four teams, the competition would be increased to 18. For the 20-team feeder system to operate, two more teams would be required. If the Papua New Guinean bid was to be successful as the 20th team in a future NRL, then I would like to see two new PNG teams included in the Q-Cup.
If the Hunters were not successful for their NRL bid, then another team from Papua New Guinea could help develop depth for their national team. Either option leaves the Q-Cup with 19 teams.
To bring the league up to 20 teams, a team from the Wide – Bay Burnett region based out of Bundaberg may be an option. I know the game had tried before and failed, but hopefully, with more money coming into the sport in the future, a workable solution could be achieved.
Now for the NSW Cup. There are two schools of thought for this competition. One is that it is too Sydney-centric and the other is that the country regions are not financially secure enough to compete at this level.
The key ingredient to having country teams promoted into the NSW Cup lies with the NRL clubs. Would they partner with a country affiliate? If so, the following places could host a state team: Tamworth, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Bathurst, Dubbo and Wagga Wagga.
I hear what you are saying, these towns don’t have the population, and they don’t have the finances. That is true… at the moment. However, these areas do love rugby league, and having teams in regional areas have worked for the Q-Cup.
The other option would be to promote teams from the Ron Massey Cup and the Sydney Shield who do not currently compete in the NSW Cup.
To highlight how some of the links could work, the Western Suburbs Magpies would be the Wests Tigers affiliate, and if ever the Balmain Tigers return they could be the club’s second – if they decided not to choose a team from the Q-Cup.
I know that a group from Glebe are striving to have the Dirty Reds return to the game in an independent form and at present, they are a feeder to the Newtown Jets. Maybe they could form a partnership with a Sydney club and operate on a stand-alone basis.
There has been a discussion of Fiji and Wellington New Zealand entering a team into the NSW Cup. This plan could work in a similar mode to how the Papua New Guinea Hunters operate in the Q-Cup. The move would undoubtedly enhance the reach of the NSW Cup.
I get it; these clubs don’t have the financial clout to compete at this level. I stress that for this plan to work then the game needs to plan and distribute its funds equitably, appropriately and strategically, and supply the resources not just for the elite NRL, but for levels below. If undertaken, then the plan is achievable without disrupting country rugby league or the state competitions.
Ultimately, the game should desire that both the Q-Cup and NSW Cup become self-sustainable competitions just as is the case is in the NRL.
Are 20 teams too many for the NRL? Most likely, yes. At present, the same argument could be made for 18 teams. Is this plan fantasy? Absolutely it is, at the moment anyway. Though with careful planning, proper management and the right funding arrangements anything is possible.
As mentioned earlier, at some point in the future, every NRL team will have two feeder teams operating for them. Most likely one will be based in the Q-Cup and the other in the NSW Cup. So, if that’s the case, there is no point expanding at the NRL level if there are no plans to expand the leagues below it.
For those who live and breathe New South Wales Rugby League and Queensland Rugby League, what plan would you implement if there was to be an expansion of the NSW Cup or Q-Cup?