Australian rugby league has dabbled in many administrative models among its clubs and experienced admirable success in a lot of them.
Currently you have teams organised along the traditional Sydney lines of poker machine-rich leagues clubs, teams that are the product of their communities and live on their TV grants, and privately owned franchises.
We’ve had expansion – which in my lifetime started with the jerseys of new teams Canberra and Illawarra being held up at the 1981 grand final – and mergers.
Between them, expansion and merged clubs have won 17 of the competitions since the scarlet and lime green jumpers were placed on display at the Sydney Cricket Ground, with two more championships stripped from the Storm.
Two of these joint ventures, Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra, have been successful in that they won premierships. We can all have differences of opinion over what constitutes success in the business of sport but winning comps is something, I hope, most of us can agree on.
The Northern Eagles, on the other hand, weren’t so successful.
We have teams representing suburbs, cities, states and countries and yet we can never be sure who will beat who on a given day. That’s a big achievement when you look at how professional sports leagues are organised elsewhere in the world.
But the one model we have not seen explored in Australia with rugby league is relocation – and I’m anxious to see it tried out.
At one point during David Gallop’s reign there was an $11-million incentive for any team that relocated. By the end of his time, there was just as much on offer to bail a club out so they could stay where they were!
I make no secret of the fact I’d welcome Cronulla being our test tube baby when it comes to relocation.
Eight and a half teams in Sydney is too many and Cronulla are vulnerable at the moment with their coach banned and facing a fine of $800,000.
Speculation the NRL may take over their license has eased in recent days but if that was to happen, where should they be shifted to?
Surely Brisbane would be a bad call.
The Broncos have a stranglehold on that market and you don’t take them on with a transplanted Sydney club. Brisbane Sharks would always flounder on dry land against Broncos – even the world’s best marketing and deepest pockets would struggle to make them work.
Just about everyone in Brisbane knows who the Cronulla Sharks are – they aren’t about to un-know it in the same way that the Fitzroy Lions were about to become the Brisbane Lions or South Melbourne was able to evolve into the Sydney Swans.
Those two examples suggest Perth would be a more suitable home.
I’m sure the WARL have their own designs on the West Coast Pirates but has that name attained any resonance yet outside of the rugby league community? The Perth Reds are long gone – they haven’t played at the top level for 20 years.
(If Cronulla went the way of North Sydney and then came back in 2038, they might even work in Brisbane).
People say relocation won’t work. But lord knows we’ve tried out plenty of worse, untested, risky foolhardy concepts just to make sure they’re rubbish since 1908.
I mean, the Hunter Mariners?
Let’s try out relocation just to be sure it’s a crap idea.