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Rugby league expansion back on the agenda in both hemispheres

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Expert
19th March, 2019
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2576 Reads

Given the NRL’s current financial health, not expanding would be a grotesque abrogation of responsibility by League Central.

Their television deal is worth $1.7 billion, the clubs get $12 million per year, and the salary cap is $11 million.

NRL.com is better resourced than the rugby league departments of any newspaper, radio station or TV station that regularly covers the game.

Yet the flagship at the top of this business, the completion itself, is a ring around the right side of a map of Australia that also encompasses the Tasman Sea.

It’s just not good enough.

The thing that should get sports administrators out of bed each morning is to increase the number of people who watch and play that game. You want to make money but if you’re a sport, that’s why you make the money – to maximise people watching and playing.

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The NRL aren’t doing that unless they are adding to their geographical spread.

Todd Greenberg said this week, “We are taking Origin to Perth this year – why don’t we take more games in Perth?” If Perth is good enough for Origin, it’s good enough for a team again. That’s certainly how things went for Melbourne – Test matches, Origins, their own team.

Storm players celebrate a Jahrome Hughes try

AAP Image/Daniel Pockett

Stasis in this period of unprecedented wealth just shouldn’t be an option. The positive thing about the way the game is organised in Australia is that clubs won’t be able to block expansion or relocation out of self-interest.

Sure, the 16 existing franchises won’t particularly want to split their grants 17 or 18 ways. But they won’t get a choice because the Commission makes these decisions, not them.

However, one way for the clubs to still get the same cut is for one of them to relocate. Can they self-govern, encouraging one of their number to move so their cut of central funding stays the same?

Under David Gallop, the NRL had an $11 million bounty for any Sydney club that wanted to shift. Then the ‘assistance’ for staying put became the same!

It’s time the NRL puts up a reward for relocation once again. A transplanted Sydney team probably wouldn’t capture the imagination of fans in Brisbane and its surrounds.

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But elsewhere, it could work.

Which brings us to yesterday’s announcement that New York and a transplanted Hemel Stags would be asked to present to lower division clubs in England about joining their structure as soon as next year.

The people behind New York have been waiting a while for some movement, although this development was easily foreseeable a month ago.

The news regarding Hemel has shocked a lot of people, although it was rumoured in certain circles that Toronto Wolfpack founder Eric Perez had purchased the license of a team that had chosen to ‘sit out’ 2018 and was planning to move them to Hamilton, Ontario.

That speculation has now widened to include Boston or Jacksonville. Licenses are not automatically transferable – Perez has to convince the clubs and the league to allow it.

The general reasoning behind having them address the clubs is strikingly provincial when you consider the opportunities New York and another big North American city present to the sport worldwide.

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Basically, the other teams are almost entirely part-time and the two would-be new sides will be arguing why players should be expected to take days off to travel! As a bare minimum, they’ll be expected to pay for incoming travel and probably undertake to forgo their share of television money.

Then there’s the question of whether Super League clubs – which get much bigger crowds than most in the lower divisions but operate on a pint-and-pie index regarding away supporters – will be obstructive to the idea of another side pushing for promotion that, like Catalans and next year Toronto, bring little or no away support.

The attitude of Super League could be a stumbling block.

But the key difference here should not be understated.

In Australia, clubs won’t get a choice as to whether they have new rivals. In Britain, the lunatics appear very much in control of the asylum.

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