The Roar
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If new NRL franchises are coming through the second tier, how should it look?

Papua New Guinea take on the Cook Islands in a Pacific Test during NRL representative round. (Supplied)
Expert
16th April, 2018
28
2243 Reads

Well, what to talk about this week? There’re plenty of candidates: whether rugby league is s**t, how good it is that the Denver Test is still on, the woes of Parramatta and North Queensland, the fantastic season of the Illawarra Steelers.

But I’m going to overlook all that obvious stuff and take you back a month or so, when new ARLC chairman Peter Beattie (lover of the Barcelona Knights) said that expansion was back on the table.

Beattie also commented that performances in the State Leagues would now help franchises prove they were ready for the big time.

I like it – promotion without relegation.

But are the lower tiers of competition in Australia set up in a way that can encourage the likes of Perth or a second Brisbane team or Wellington or whoever to firstly, invest, and secondly plan for a future in the NRL?

The answer, I believe, is a resounding ‘no’.

The new women’s league is an indication that the NRL is capable of thinking strategically and showing some strength when it comes to forgetting the accidental history of the game and doing what is right for the long-term.

Parramatta Eels versus Penrith Panthers women's rugby league NRL rugby league SG Ball Image: Sean Teuma

(Image: Sean Teuma)

They didn’t want too many teams in Sydney – and nor should they. As my colleague Paul Kent is wont to say: ‘if you started the premiership from scratch today, it would look nothing like what we’ve been left with’.

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Surely, then, if League Central can show some balls (not sure whether that’s the right term) with the women’s NRL, it can start applying some vision to the second tier, too.

I’ll say this again: I don’t think the NSW and Queensland Rugby Leagues should exist. NRL Victoria just did a deal with their State government which really means the NRL did a deal.

The same should apply in NSW and Queensland. Give Brad Fittler and Kevvy Walters performance units to run their teams but we don’t need all that infrastructure and duplication.

The QRL – particularly, since there’s no CRL north of the border – and NSW Rugby League each do lots of good things but it could be done in the name of the NRL just as well. They exist primarily for political and historic reasons.

Don’t talk to me about travel costs as a justification for the Intrust Super Cup and Intrust Super Premiership being separate competitions. One has a team in Auckland, the other has one in Port Moresby.

If the Hunters and Warriors switched comps, no-one would bat an eyelid.

The border and identities of the two competitions are completely arbitrary – semi-pro and amateur teams in many sports can now afford to travel nationally and internationally, as Toulouse and Toronto playing in a comp watched by three-figure crowds illustrates.

A second tier NRL could generate the sort of money the NBL does – and they manage to pay for the hotels and flights OK (most of the time).

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Anyway, here are two places where our sport is missing out on money: consortia who want to enter the NRL and keep being turned away and from the IP of storied trademarks like Balmain Tigers, North Sydney Bears, etc.

Newtown Jets

(Photo: Kris Swales)

Make the teams who want into the NRL jump through hoops that generate revenue as they do the jumping – look at Toronto having to work their way up to Super League from third division. And make them earn that revenue against teams that also tap into the public’s sense of nostalgia.

An effective second tier would be aimed at fans, not at existing NRL club coaches trying to bring back injured players or suburban leagues clubs with some spare money.

It would exclusively be made up of teams representing areas not serviced by the NRL, teams with an historically significant brand, and teams preparing to enter the NRL. It would be an attractive property in its own right, not completely subjugated to feeder status.

I started by going through all the current teams in each State League and listing who should be in and out – but it got too complicated so I went back and deleted what I’d written.

Sydney is a crowded market so where would a revived Balmain or Western Suburbs play? Surely you can’t make Newtown leave Henson Park or North Sydney come back but avoid North Sydney Oval?

Likewise, Wynnum Manly, Redcliffe and the other Brisbane clubs have enormous cultural cache which should be respected. It’s not an easy balancing act.

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The fact is, it’s a bridge we probably shouldn’t have to cross because we won’t get our wish-list. We won’t get every single dead club and every single regional city lining up to play in our imaginary competition.

But a millionaire-backed Wellington Orcas playing the Bears at North Sydney Oval on a sunny Sunday afternoon when there’s no NRL in Sydney?

That’s the utopia I’m talking about.