I tell you what, at this point in this season I would prefer to support the Canterbury Bulldogs than the Newcastle Knights or Penrith Panthers.
I’m interested in the many theories about rugby league’s future, and if the NRL’s plan is for a team in Perth and second sides New Zealand and Brisbane while reducing the field to 12, here is how the cards seem to fall.
This is how I see a 12-team NRL competition unfolding in 2025.
For financial reasons the league needs to eat in Western Australia, but that comes easiest with relocating Penrith there, as you need the structures and the juniors and the Sydney link, but you want to kill the Panthers without losing such a cool potential brand and keeping alliteration in your corner. But you need to ensure the junior and development leagues in Western Australia are well supported by the NRL.
Goodbye to the Raiders, and thank you for your service. Everyone knows Canberra fans will travel to Sydney, and the upcoming high-speed rail will make it easier for fans (if it happens), but will they drive to Western Sydney or just buy a Foxtel subscription and stay home like they mostly do now?
Canberra is mostly English, New Zealand and Queensland-fed so without utilising the Riverina and other nearby regions, kill it and they’ll all move to Sydney or go to New Zealand. The Eels are gone too but feed the new Western Sydney side and Perth.
Western Sydney are the Tigers because it’s a great set of colours and brand name. I’m not saying the current Tigers administration get the keys to all of Western Sydney.
The Cowboys, Roosters and Rabbitohs stay. North Queensland need development and juniors and NRL support.
Manly, Cronulla, the Dragons and whatever Greg Florimo has been doing, as well as any Gosford or Central Coast efforts, become the North Sydney Dragons.
I’m not saying we should relocate Manly to Brisbane; I’m just saying the Eagles are a cool logo and name, so it can go to Brisbane – but they could take the Bears, Sharks or Titans brands, and all the Gold Coast efforts should go into the second Brisbane team. Gold Coast fans will travel to Brisbane for Keith Urban and rugby league, so the NRL should stop wasting time and marketing effort there and just take the big show to Brisbane.
The Hunter region needs support to keep the Knights relevant. It can and should soak up the Riverina, ACT and Hunter juniors with strong investment in Country Rugby League from the NRL. A Knights team is propped up like a Melbourne or a Perth, but with a good football side and culture the fans turn out, and it’s a good market to remain prominent in. The turnstiles tick over there.
New Zealand needs a second team and needs to draw strongly on the Pacific Islands juniors. Those juniors need NRL dollars to make sure the supply chain grows and the best athletes end up playing rugby league in New Zealand.
Change is difficult, but there are people in the world who can manage it well. Good brand transitions and a quality product would see new fans replace old, and strong investment in junior and regional rugby league is important to soften hearts and establish community, culture and connection. That’s something the current NRL can do better in and for the new future.
But given the sorts of things being discussed by the NRL and its legends, I just wanted to have a crack at what the future completion might look like.