The crowd of over 19,000 at Central Coast Stadium on the weekend is further evidence the locals deserve their own NRL team rather than making do with a couple of games a year featuring clubs with no geographic significance to the area.
In the spirit of the just completed NRL 1970s Retro Round, let’s briefly travel back 40 years to 1979.
That year, the North Sydney Bears – coached by former Great Britain halfback Tommy Bishop and featuring club stalwart Don McKinnon lining up in the front row – won just two games and finished with the wooden spoon.
The same year, the average home crowd at North Sydney Oval was just 4266 with a largest crowd of 6011 against traditional rivals Manly.
Greg Florimo was just 12 years old, playing for a local junior team and still learning to ride a skateboard. He would go on and play a major role in one of the most successful eras for North Sydney – the 1990s – when they made the finals six times over the decade.
Of course, it all finished way too soon for Norths. After the 1999 season, they were compelled through debt to form a joint venture with Manly and become the Northern Eagles – an organisation that ran for three years before it collapsed and the licence reverted to Manly.
The Bears had already announced their intention to move to the Central Coast in 1997 and were the driving force behind the building of the new stadium at Gosford.
The South Sydney and Melbourne game in Gosford on the weekend brought renewed calls for the Central Coast Bears to be included in the NRL. Andrew Johns led the charge in the media this time around.
Johns, who spent his formative years in Cessnock and played 249 games for the Newcastle Knights, made his case on Wide World of Sports.
“The Central Coast have a stadium up there and they have a huge junior base. There are so many players up there, so you can get the best kids aspiring to play for the Central Coast,” the Immortal explained.
“I understand they also had a coach in line (in 2007). I think they had $50 million in the bank. So for me it’s a no-brainer.
“Done right with the right people it could be successful.”
In 2006, the NRL preferred the Gold Coast over the Central Coast despite a well-funded bid headed by businessman John Singleton and Greg Florimo.
Hindsight tells us that the Gold Coast has been less than successful both on and off the field. One finals appearance since admission to the league, financial debt and current player problems have hindered their progress.
Johns described Perth as being “too far away” and pointed to logistical issues. But it is not one team at the expense of another for inclusion.
Recent attendances at State of Origin and the Bledisloe Test in Perth point to a population that wants to see top level rugby, whatever code that may be.
If a bid is strong and likely to work, then perhaps more teams overall is the answer. Likewise for a second Brisbane or New Zealand club.
The case for Central Coast has been derailed in the past by the ‘too many Sydney teams’ argument. The Central Coast isn’t Sydney. The fact that historically the NRL has grown outwards from a Sydney competition has led to an oversupply of clubs west and south of the CBD. The people of Gosford should not be penalised for this.
With a growing population of over 330,000 and a strong junior league that has produced James Maloney, Connor Watson and Storm utility Nicho Hynes to name just a few, the region is more than ready for an NRL team.
The locals are genuine rugby league supporters who would embrace their own team in a flash as long as the club is based in the Central Coast. The proposed model would play 11 home games at Central Coast Stadium with a one-off home game each year at North Sydney Oval against Manly. It makes sense.
While it would be purely a Central Coast team, the new club would more than likely see a return of many lapsed North Sydney supporters who felt disenfranchised from rugby league following the failed Northern Eagles joint venture.
The corporate support opportunities would be lucrative in an area that stretches from the North Sydney CBD in the south to Lake Munmorah in the north.
The NRL expansion quandary is compounded by history with no simple solutions. The Central Coast is the low-hanging fruit and their bid should viewed with fresh eyes as we approach a new broadcasting deal in 2023.
The Coasties want and deserve to have their own club in the next few years. It makes perfect sense for the NRL to grant them their licence.