Time for the NRL to expand and grow the game

Adam Hayward Roar Pro

By Adam Hayward, Adam Hayward is a Roar Pro


135 Have your say

    NRL expansion has gained plenty of momentum since new ARL Commission Chairman Peter Beattie publicly stated that it was back on the agenda.

    Beattie believes the NRL must grow in order to survive, with the potential of introducing two extra clubs by 2022 to coincide with the new TV rights deal.

    Currently, the A-League covers more territory across Australia since its inception just 14 years ago and they’ve been relatively successful on the broader scale geographically, in markets where the NRL doesn’t exist.

    The NRL have also been defenceless as the AFL made inroads into rugby league heartland – the AFL remaining the benchmark in relation to expansion.

    The first question to be answered in regards to expansion is if there is enough player talent to sustain an 18-team competition?

    During the ARL-Super League split 21 years ago, there was a combined total of 22 teams, there was a plethora of players who simply weren’t good enough for the top grades, and talent was not evenly spread.

    The NRL must create and nurture more quality talent, capable of playing at first-grade level, in order to sustain two new teams. It’s been confirmed that both states will run their own U-20s competitions, replacing the national U-20s competition, so there will be a healthy amount of talent coming through the lower grade ranks. The responsibility lies with the NRL, QRL and NSWRL to ensure players have clear pathways to first grade.

    By 2022, the NRL should expand in rugby league heartland areas on the NSW Central Coast and the Ipswich-Logan Corridor (west of Brisbane), as well as seeing two Sydney teams relocating to the non-rugby league cities of Perth and Adelaide.

    I’ll reserve my opinion on which teams should relocate, but the reality is, no Sydney team turns over a profit and the game as a whole in the city has stagnated badly.

    Andrew Fifita Cronulla Sharks NRL Rugby League 2017

    AAP Image/Joe Castro

    It would be logical for a team like the Cronulla Sharks, who according to Roy Morgan research conducted by Fox Sports have the lowest number of fans of all the Sydney clubs, and are based in an area with a population of only 200,000.

    To continue using Cronulla as an example, they should look to relocate to Perth, with a population of 2.5 million, or Adelaide, with a population of 1.5 million, and have either the entire West Coast or South Australia all to themselves. They would keep their loyal fans from the Shire and gain hundreds of thousands of new followers.

    A relocated team in Perth would benefit from thousands of additional club memberships, endless corporate sponsorship opportunities as a standalone rugby league club based in a capital city, the golden opportunity to take advantage of Rugby AU’s decision to scrap the Western Force Super Rugby franchise, and the ability to grow the game in AFL heartland – including the potential recruitment of AFL juniors.

    Given the time difference, the majority of their home games should be ‘family friendly’ afternoon-twighlight times, which would air during prime time in the eastern states. Their home ground would likely be the rectangular, 20,500 seat capacity nib Stadium or the WACA.

    In 1995-96, the Western Reds were the best-performing expansion team, averaging home crowds of 13,000 – more than most Sydney teams – but were eventually victims of the Super League war, in which they were forced to pay for flights and accommodation of visiting clubs, inevitably sending the club broke.

    Perth recently drew a crowd of almost 40,000 for the Round 1 double-header at the new Optus Stadium. From 2013 to 2016, NRL matches taken to Perth, including a Test match, have averaged crowds of more than 20,000.

    Fans outside Optus Stadium

    Fans flock to Optus Stadium during its first event. (Image: Ryan Buckland)

    Relocating to Adelaide offers the same opportunities in relation to corporate sponsorships, memberships and growing the game in AFL heartland. The home ground would be the Adelaide Oval or Coopers Stadium.

    In 1997, the Adelaide Rams averaged home crowds of 15,000, including the fourth highest crowd – 27,435 – that season. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough talent to assemble a competitive roster and their lack of on-field success led to their demise.

    The NRL have taken three games to Adelaide since 2010, with a crowd average of 14,000. The Roosters head back to Adelaide Oval in June, after they drew a crowd of 21,000 last season against the Storm. The NRL will be taking a State of Origin game to the Adelaide Oval in 2020, which they’d expect to be a sell-out.

    Should the NRL expand to Perth and Adelaide, it would be vital to also expand reserve grade feeder clubs to these cities as well, via the QRL or NSWRL state competitions, which would also boost opportunities for lower grade players aspiring to make it to the NRL.

    As for the NSW Central Coast, resurrecting the (North Sydney) Bears would be the logical option, as they already have a loyal fan-base, the advantage of securing corporate sponsorship, they’d be located 75km up the M1 from their traditional home and – being a foundation club – bring tradition.

    The Central Coast currently have 23 junior clubs and over 7000 players participating in rugby league at all levels. Central Coast Stadium, with a capacity of over 20,000, usually comes close to selling out every time the NRL has taken a game there over the past dozen years.

    As for Ipswich and Logan, the corridor has a combined population of over 500,000 and is expanding rapidly. They have thousands of juniors, existing QRL reserve grade clubs, and corporate sponsorship opportunities which could potentially expand into Brisbane.

    The only problem is the area doesn’t have a stadium, but would base itself out of Suncorp Stadium, which is roughly 30 minutes away, until a venue is built.

    However, the Ipswich train line takes fans directly to Suncorp Stadium so it definitely is not a major problem.

    Ipswich and Logan deserve their own team more than a second Brisbane team, which would also dilute the Broncos’ brand – the most profitable club in the NRL. Also, Brisbane contains thousands of Ipswich and Logan expats who would switch allegiances from the Broncos.

    It’s important to note that expansion is at least four years away, giving the NRL plenty of time to establish itself in Perth and Adelaide. However, the ARL Commission needs to make the decision on where to expand and relocate as soon as possible, giving new clubs and relocating Sydney clubs enough time to establish their brands, as well as sufficient time to assemble a competitive roster.

    The NRL could then look at expanding to Papua New Guinea, creating a second New Zealand team, going to the Pacific Islands and adopt the NFL structure, splitting the competition into two separate conferences, or the possibility of the QRL and NSWRL state competitions merging to create a promotion and relegation system.

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    The Crowd Says (135)

    • March 21st 2018 @ 5:03am
      JVGO said | March 21st 2018 @ 5:03am | ! Report

      We could relocate the Cronulla Hawks/Dolphins/Seagulls to Perth and he Perth Reds to Cronulla. Then the Cronulla whatevers could have a whole state supporting them and Perth Reds would just have 200,000 Dolphins fans. Imagine the profits for Qantas.

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2018 @ 4:53pm
        BigJ said | March 21st 2018 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

        I think 🤔 now that we have a Queenslander in charge, expansion won’t be as hard as the past Nswelshmen think it is. Beattie main focus will be the survival of the game through expansion. It’s not twenty years ago when league had no competition for fans from the A-league, afl, union and to a lesser extended mma. Being closed minded with the blinkers on will only hurt the game, they have to think outside of the box and put out the feelers in Perth. It worked once it can work again

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2018 @ 7:15pm
          The Barry said | March 21st 2018 @ 7:15pm | ! Report

          Where was John Grant from you troglodyte…?

          • March 21st 2018 @ 9:17pm
            Big Daddy said | March 21st 2018 @ 9:17pm | ! Report

            Your being too kind.

      • March 21st 2018 @ 10:07pm
        Peter Phelps said | March 21st 2018 @ 10:07pm | ! Report

        The time for the NRL to expand was 15 years ago.

        This sport is such a country bumpkin in terms of business. We have the greatest game in the world from a spectator perspective and we now have over 100 years of miss management of that sport. We have a great game administered by idiots.

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2018 @ 10:50pm
          Emcie said | March 21st 2018 @ 10:50pm | ! Report

          I don’t think it can be underestimated exactly how much damage the super league war did and how backwards it pushed the code

    • March 21st 2018 @ 6:37am
      i miss the force said | March 21st 2018 @ 6:37am | ! Report

      a new and interesting topic that has yet to be covered on the roar. I especially like it how you look at raw population numbers which are an excellent indicator about the probability of a successful RL team. i am sure we can covert at least half of those Adeladians into RL fans, the comparison with the a league using points on a map was excellent and should be a major consideration when deciding what teams should be in the NRL (i think tradition, finances, support are all over rated)

      looking forward to 200 suggestions arguing the relative strength of the central coast, the might Rockhampton, the RL hotbed of Adelaide, the Perth people who have shown the ability to show up once a year, the financial metroplis of pNG and a second team in NZ. We dont need a second side in Brisbane, the Broncos only made 18 finals series in a row and have the budget of Tonga and Samoa economies combined

      • March 21st 2018 @ 6:49am
        AR said | March 21st 2018 @ 6:49am | ! Report

        The force is strong in this one.

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2018 @ 8:08am
        Emcie said | March 21st 2018 @ 8:08am | ! Report

        The NSWRL didn’t care too much about tradition and support when they effectively wiped out the BRL

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2018 @ 8:34am
          The Barry said | March 21st 2018 @ 8:34am | ! Report

          The NSWRL didn’t wipe out the BRL.

          The BRL would have survived if it had the support but by and large Brisbane people got on board with the Broncos and left their BRL clubs behind to some degree.

          If the BRL was that important fans could have boycotted the NSWRL and the Broncos, but they didn’t. It was all “Hey, hey, we’re the Broncos!”

          It’s with hindsight that Brisbane people have realised the damage done to the BRL. And it is a shame. But that doesn’t mean the NSWRL destroyed the BRL.

          Heaps of Brisbane people say “I always had two teams, the Broncos and Wynnum / Valleys / Souths, etc” but how much time, attention and money did they commit between the two? How many times did they watch Wynnum v the Broncos? If they were buying a jersey or a flag, did they get a Broncos one or a Valleys one?

          So yes, the creation of the Broncos certainly played a big role in the demise of the BRL but by and large Brisbane league fans were willing participants…

          • Roar Guru

            March 21st 2018 @ 9:08am
            Emcie said | March 21st 2018 @ 9:08am | ! Report

            I did say “effectively”, the old BRL teams are Q Cup teams now. There’s no way the BRL could compete financially with the money the NSWRL had access to no matter how much merchandise they sold. But its more than the ability to compete, the history and tradition of the BRL is pretty much ignored despite the merging of the QRL and the NSWRL into the NRL. How many great QRL players were included in the lastest immortal disscusion? Despite existing since 1908 player stats from the QRL are pretty much ignored as the NSWRL is essensially treated as if it was the only League competition of the time

            • Roar Guru

              March 21st 2018 @ 9:28am
              The Barry said | March 21st 2018 @ 9:28am | ! Report

              Yeah ok, I get what you mean about the stats. I just went into the rugby league project and looked up Wally Lewis and his club career effectively started in 1988. It had his Wakefield Trinity stats but nothing from his BRL career from 1978 to 1987. I didn’t realise that was the case and I agree its not right. Interestingly Wikipedia shows his BRL stats.

              As for the immortals:

              How many NSW players are included in immortal discussions since 2005?

              Queensland won a handful of series between 1930 and 1980, it’s understandable NSW will provide most of the immortals for that era, the same as Queensland will from this era.

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2018 @ 10:50am
                Nat said | March 21st 2018 @ 10:50am | ! Report

                Wally was a great Valleys man, First rnd win by the boys (against Easts) on the weekend. Just saying.

                TB, serious question, who would you think qualifies to be in the immortal convo from NSW post 2005? Fitler had retired, Budsy/Mini are HOF but Immortals?

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2018 @ 11:14am
                Emcie said | March 21st 2018 @ 11:14am | ! Report

                And apparently Meningas career began six years after he played in the inaugural State of Origin. The fact that a crowd sourced site contains more information then the offical records is not a great look.

                I’m not sure you can use test results to say that no individual players deserve a mention, especially with all the politics therein. At any rate, QLD were at least competitive before NSW took a stranglehold from the late 50’s and even had a period of dominance pre war.

                Anyway, this has got a bit off topic 😉 . For the record, I’m not a fan of relocation anyways, just found the throwaway comment about tradition and support ammusing

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2018 @ 11:20am
                The Barry said | March 21st 2018 @ 11:20am | ! Report

                I don’t think there are any NSW immortals from post 2005. That’s my point.

                How many Queensland immortals from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

                You can’t expect there to be anything approaching an even distribution of immortals throughout an era where you’ve been absolutely walloped, whether that era goes for 12 years or 40 years…

                I suspect Queensland’s dominance through this era will be represented via the immortals and eventually their early 80s dominance via Wally and Meninga.

                I’m not sure NSWs dominance through the 90s and early 2000s will be represented.

                It’s equally frivolous for NSW fans to be jumping up and down because there are no blue immortals from this era as Queenslanders re the 50s and 60s.

                Congrats re Valleys. The first BRL team I knew was Wynnum Manly when they had Wally, Geno and half the Queensland team.

                Once I’d read Wally Lewis biography and learned about about Wally and Ross Strudwick from Wally’s early Valleys days I had a bit of a soft spot for them.

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2018 @ 11:56am
                Nat said | March 21st 2018 @ 11:56am | ! Report

                Yeah, I see both sides. You can argue that a few of the very best Qlders were playing in NSW but not all as Wally demonstrates. But exposure is key and the ‘Immortals’ concept comes from a magazine focused on NSWRL.

                I’m a relative newcomer to Valleys. Growing up in NQ, I was a fan based more on previous success than knowledge or location. Much like being a Canberra fan prior to Broncos inception. By pure coincidence I moved into the area and their home ground is a few blocks over. Not long in town, I met a few of the locals who also volunteer down there and they gave me a run down of recent history and past woes. At that time, after financial issues, burnt down clubhouse, relocated and kicked out of BRL grade, they were just fighting back. Fortunately, a strong history has backers and long story short, 2017 BRL Premiers. Tears among grown men. Still, it’s a local club. I can take my dog down there and sit in a small but vocal drinking area that’s attached to a clubhouse the size of a small house. $4 beers, hot chips and gravy and Saturday arvo footy – perfection.

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2018 @ 12:03pm
                Emcie said | March 21st 2018 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

                I’m not saying that there are players that should definately be considered as immortals from that era, just that the lack of any consideration of potential selections from the QLR highlights that the NSWRL is treated as the entirity of Rugby Leagues history in this country. I personally don’t like the idea of including players that no one can actually remember playing as stats and folklaw have to potential to be very misleading

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2018 @ 12:24pm
                The Barry said | March 21st 2018 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

                Great story Nat.

                They could can the immortals concept for mine. I get that exclusivity creates prestige but I don’t think it’s good for the game for fans to be arguing about whether Meninga is better than Johns or Provan better than Lockyer or Smith better than Lamb 🤔

                They all deserve recognition and a properly chartered, maintained and recognised hall of fame would be the best solution.

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2018 @ 12:39pm
                Emcie said | March 21st 2018 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

                I tend to agree, exclusivity might create prestige but it also creates the potential for it to become to political, especially with not real set paremeters for selection criteria

              • Roar Guru

                March 21st 2018 @ 12:56pm
                The Barry said | March 21st 2018 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

                Agreed Emcie…for me it’s indisputable that Johns should be an immortal but rushing him in with minimal transparency did the concept no favours at all.

                Maybe you can get into the HOF five year after retirement and then the immortals five year after that.

                Allows the dust to settle a bit and some perspective to be obtained / retained.

    • March 21st 2018 @ 6:53am
      Busty McCracken said | March 21st 2018 @ 6:53am | ! Report

      I will reserve my judgement on which team but this bloke totally threw the sharks under the bus and I think that’s a great idea. Haha. Ya kinda showed ya hand there even with reserving your judgement.

      Seriously though yes expansion is something that’s gotta happen but take any team thousands of kms away from their heartland (eg sharks to Adelaide) and the majority are going to struggle to keep interest in that team. Further to that the new home town will struggle to embrace them as their own because well… they’re not.

      • March 21st 2018 @ 12:33pm
        Fred said | March 21st 2018 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

        If ever a Sydney team has to relocate – which I think is a terrible idea for many different reasons – there’s only one candidate. The Rorters have no local fans, nor local juniors, so it wouldn’t matter where they were based. I guarantee there’d be more Rorters fans living on the Central Coast, or in Queensland, or in Perth, or even in PNG, than in the eastern suburbs.

        • March 21st 2018 @ 1:38pm
          Busty McCracken said | March 21st 2018 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

          Ya know that’s actually the soundest idea ive heard out of all sydney teams. Still wouldn’t work but makes more sense than any other brand. The reason i think places like manly ,sharks etc wont work is due to the parochial nature of those locations. You identify those hills as your childhood and the region with where you grew up.

          Roosters probably have that the least out of the sydney teams. They are a foundation club though and would suck to see that happen. Plus whos to say people in Perth etc would embrace them anyway. It’s a though situation where people are gonna get hurt no matter what the solution is found to be

          • Roar Guru

            March 21st 2018 @ 2:19pm
            spruce moose said | March 21st 2018 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

            I think because they are a foundation club (and the last club to play every season) that probably saves their bacon. That are Nick Politis is stubbornly powerful.

            Otherwise, the reasons Fred posts is valid. Add also that rugby and the Sydney Swans have joint ownership of the Eastern Suburbs now.

            • Roar Rookie

              March 22nd 2018 @ 2:09pm
              InvisiblePJs said | March 22nd 2018 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

              Interestingly enough, that would be the Sydney Swans, who were originally South Melbourne, who were a foundation club of the (then) VFL. Hasn’t seemed to hurt them in the long term.

            • March 22nd 2018 @ 6:24pm
              duecer said | March 22nd 2018 @ 6:24pm | ! Report

              Cronulla has their own grounds, has great potential and is in a RL area. The Roosters would have far more fans outside the East (as you note the Swans and Rugby own the East now), wouldn’t make much of a difference if they relocated to Perth, or even played half their games there – the fan base lost wouldn’t be much compared to Cronulla.
              Adelaide is a bit of a pipe dream, Central Coast really isn’t expanding, everyone knows a 2nd Brisbane is a good idea.

    • March 21st 2018 @ 7:21am
      jimmmy said | March 21st 2018 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      I accept that areas change in nature and that eventually a Sydney team may need relocating. But this can’t be done by royal fiat from NRL HQ. Surely the Souths fiasco taught us that.
      The right way to do it is to set a number of criteria out for each club to reach in order to stay in the NRL.. Membership numbers, crowds, financial performance etc. Then leave it up to each club to meet them.
      Then it is up to the clubs management and fans to make sure it is not their club that goes belly up by working hard to stay in the game.

      • March 21st 2018 @ 1:56pm
        Sonic said | March 21st 2018 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

        I think the UK super league had (or has) a system like you suggested. I like the sound of it, but it would never fly here because most sydney clubs would fail the criteria, therefore the nsw rl mafia would never let it happen.

        Saying that, super league seems to change their system every season…

    • Roar Guru

      March 21st 2018 @ 7:47am
      The Barry said | March 21st 2018 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      Bums on seats for one off games in frontier locations aren’t really a reliable metric for how that city can sustain an NRL club.

      In Adelaide there is such a lack of appetite for rugby league that it’s not even shown on FTA TV. Not live. Not delayed. Not at all. That suggests to me that ther needs to be a lot more done to promote rugby league there than plonk an NRL team straight in there.

      Perth potentially offers different time slots that perhaps the NRL can utilise.

      It doesn’t automatically follow that loyal Sharks fans will just follow the Perth Sharks. There are plenty of recent examples to suggest that supporters don’t blindly follow when massive changes are made to their club. What happens to junior participation numbers for example? Are kids and parents going to show up for the Gymea Gorillas every Saturday morning when there’s no local club to represent?

      The NRL needs to be very careful about giving up large tracts of Sydney to AFL and soccer.

      I’d be all for Central Coast and Ipswich/Logan teams but it really comes down to additional eyes on screens. Are there enough new potential NRL viewers in those areas to fund the creation of clubs? I’d suggest that most fans in those areas already watch NRL – so new teams in those areas aren’t going to add much value to the existing TV deal.

      There’s also a sweet spot for content. There’s no point having 10 games per week if you’ve only got time slots for eight.

      Club profitability is also a bit of a furphy. Sydney clubs (in particular) don’t turn a profit if you don’t count the revenue generated through grants from the NRL or leagues clubs. But why shouldn’t these be counted? The clubs help generate this revenue and have earned it. The term grant is a misnomer.

      If expansion is on the agenda, eventually the NRL will need to bite the bullet and make some moves, whether true expansion or relocation, which are not profitable in the short or medium term. But I suspect the game can’t really afford that at the moment.

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2018 @ 8:34am
        Emcie said | March 21st 2018 @ 8:34am | ! Report

        Dunno if you can use TV coverage to gauge interest in Adelaide, five or six years ago the NRL wasn’t on FTA in Melbourne either. If there’s one thing about Adelaide, they do love thier sport

      • March 21st 2018 @ 8:55am
        RandyM said | March 21st 2018 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        How come Adelaide usually shows up on the metro tv rating then? it’s usually very small but they’re there.

        • March 21st 2018 @ 9:04am
          Justin Kearney said | March 21st 2018 @ 9:04am | ! Report

          Because it’s shown live there on FTA. The statement above is wrong.

          • Roar Guru

            March 21st 2018 @ 9:34am
            The Barry said | March 21st 2018 @ 9:34am | ! Report

            You’re right. Apologies my info is a couple of years out of date and I didn’t check.

            Nine is showing the Sunday arvo games live and delaying the Thursday and Friday games until midnight.

    • Roar Guru

      March 21st 2018 @ 8:12am
      BA Sports said | March 21st 2018 @ 8:12am | ! Report

      I don’t mind some of your thoughts. Not sure the relevance of the North Sydney Bears to the Central Coast ro where these “loyal supporters” are who would be important to the resurection of that club which hasn’t existed in the top grade for over 20 years.

      I believe in relocation drawn out over a few years to build the platform for expansion. I look at this weeks teams and at a time when clubs should be close to the deepest their squads will be with minimal suspensions or injuries; and I see a team beaten by 54 points with no changes to their 17 and three other teams who haven’t won a game yet have made one change each. Throw into that we have a team undefeated with just 2 tries in 180 minutes and, to me, it highlights a lack of depth needed to “expand”.

      • March 21st 2018 @ 9:07am
        RandyM said | March 21st 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        “and I see a team beaten by 54 points with no changes to their 17 and three other teams who haven’t won a game yet have made one change each. Throw into that we have a team undefeated with just 2 tries in 180 minutes and, to me, it highlights a lack of depth needed to “expand”.”

        I don’t think this highlights anything except teams can be awful one week and good the next. And some teams can defend their way to victory for a short while, lets see if it lasts though for the Tigers.