Two weeks ago, the director of sport at the Nine Network, Tom Malone, said that while the NRL competition currently has the perfect number of teams, he believes a second Brisbane team is vitally important, indicating that a Sydney team should be sacrificed to make this happen.
Since then, the ARLC and the NRL have both ruled out the threat of any club being relocated or axed.
But what if they decided that 16 teams was the perfect number and that the NRL needed to accommodate a new expansion side to appease the television networks who, by and large, are funding rugby league? It would mean at least one would need to be axed or relocated.
The last time the game had to determine which clubs to cut was back after the competition became unified in 1998, when it was decided that the competition had to be whittled down from 20 sides to 14.
There were three criteria assessed at the time – each side’s top 16 home crowd figures and top 16 away crowd figures from the past two seasons, as well as competition points over the past four seasons, using a system that rewarded recency.
So if we applied that to the current NRL competition, who would get the chop?
Let’s look at the crowd figures first. To be fair to all clubs, Magic Round crowds and double-headers at the same venue have not been included in any totals.
No surprises that Brisbane dominates this field and the Knights sit in second. Parramatta, Wests Tigers and Melbourne round out the top five. Manly has the worst home crowds, by quite a margin.
This criteria is much tighter, but it is Souths who top the lot, followed by the Roosters, Dragons, Eels and Warriors. The Knights have the lowest draw away from home.
This chart shows the competition points earnt by each side over the last four years.
The NRL criteria used in 1998 when applied here means that points earnt in 2019 would be multiplied by four, those in 2018 multiplied by three, 2017 points by two and 2016 by one.
They then awarded a score for each criteria, seemingly on a band between 33 for the best side and six for the worst.
After taking this into consideration we have a final ladder that looks like this:
|South Sydney Rabbitohs||75|
|St George-Illawarra Dragons||58|
|New Zealand Warriors||55|
|North Queensland Cowboys||48|
|Manly Sea Eagles||40|
|Gold Coast Titans||26|
For all the talk in recent years that Cronulla or the Tigers should be relocated, the criteria that the NRL implemented in 1998 says both sides are among the top nine and are safe as houses. The two Sydney clubs at risk are the Bulldogs and Manly.
If we expand on this concept one criteria further and include club memberships, we will be able to see just how much of a loyal following each team has.
When 2019 club memberships are taken into account, the ladder sees Manly drop to 15th, while the Tigers move into eighth, replacing the Sharks who fall down to tenth.
|South Sydney Rabbitohs||102|
|St George-Illawarra Dragons||76|
|New Zealand Warriors||71|
|North Queensland Cowboys||67|
|Manly Sea Eagles||51|
|Gold Coast Titans||32|
If this system was used today, Gold Coast, Manly and the Bulldogs would be the three sides with an axe hanging over their heads.
The Titans hold the full deck of low crowds, poor performances and low memberships, and coupling that with the fact that they’re the youngest team makes them the obvious first choice for termination or relocation.
Moving the Titans to south Brisbane makes the most obvious of sense. It gives the Queensland capital a second side, it doesn’t displace their small local fan-base – they could still travel to home games in Brisbane with little drama – while also opening the side up to the bigger and more passionate rugby league market in Brisbane.
This would then allow for two genuine expansion teams to be introduced to the game in brand new markets.