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What rugby league should look like post-COVID: Part 2

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26th June, 2020

I hope everybody reading this article is praising our new rugby league god, Peter V’landys – the messiah who prevailed through all the adversity and became the major reason to why NRL returned nearly one month ago.

But trying not to get ahead of myself, it is equally important to relay that as a result of COVID-19, the NRL had various flaws exposed within their organisation – ones that must be remedied for the future and for the betterment of the game.

If you missed it, Part 1 of this discussion dissected a revised NRL draw from 2021 onward.

Therefore, going hand-in-hand with that, Part 2 will cover expansion with a review of reserve grade and a refreshed elite pathway.

It is no longer a secret the NRL’s next expansion team will be based in Queensland.

Although not my first preference, it is understandable that the NRL wishes to solidify Queensland as rugby league heartland. The question is, which new club should get the green light?

Suncorp Stadium

The race is between six consortia, but for the purpose of this article let’s say the Brisbane Bombers win the licence. It is vital that their club can sustain a first-grade team along with second, third and fourth-tier sides.

It is believed the NRL will not expand past a 17th team for the foreseeable future, which in turn will provide a weekly bye for first-grade teams throughout their season. This is opposed to rewarding a second expansion club with a licence, which would provide the NRL with an extra game per week and ultimately provide extra content.


Personally, I would have loved to have seen a Perth franchise back in the NRL, but with that unlikely to happen I feel the following proposed revised elite pathways model will place them in great stead for the future, along with any other expansion areas vying for a spot in the NRL.

National Reserve Grade (NRG)
The NRG competition will involve the 16 – soon to be 17 – clubs represented in the NRL competition, with each team being renamed and re-badged the exact same as their first-grade counterparts.

This innovation will clearly demonstrate that there is a legitimate second-tier reserve grade competition, with NRG games being played before their respective NRL match each week.

There is definitely room for expansion in this competition, on the proviso that the team willing to compete in the NRG is independent and unaligned to any NRL club.

For example, the Papua New Guinea Hunters already provide their own players through their own system. But if a club is not ready for the NRG, then there are further elite avenues for them to compete in.

NSW Cup and Queensland Cup
The NSW and Queensland Cups, which in their current format serve as reserve grade for NRL sides, would revert to being the third tier in this revised elite pathway model.

What this means is when a player does not make the cut for their contracted NRL or NRG team, they would be plying their trade in this competition.

Joshua Cleeland of the Newtown Jets

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)


Alignment of NRL clubs to more than one side, as well as alternative areas, would be allowed in this tier. For example, in the current Queensland Cup format, the Gold Coast Titans are represented by the Burleigh Bears and Tweed Heads Seagulls. Under the revised model, the Titans can continue these partnerships, as well as enter a Titans side in the competition if they wished, or even align with a country Queensland club.

Similarly, in NSW Cup, the Manly Sea Eagles are represented by Blacktown Workers. If the Sea Eagles wished to have a second team representing them, then they could in this competition, whether it be another Manly Sea Eagles side or an additional area, such as the Central Coast Bears or country NSW.

Furthermore, for any expansion franchises that wish to one day break into the NRL competition, the third tier would be the catalyst for them to commence.

For example, Fiji’s Kaiviti Silktails team are currently an independent expansion area that could play in this competition for years and build their brand and fan-base accordingly. And as stated, if their team became too competitive for the third division then they could be promoted to the NRG competition.

Keep in mind that NRL clubs are allowed to align with any club that they wish to from the third tier down, other than another NRL-branded team. Although, once a club wishes to be promoted to the NRG competition, they must be independent to NRL-contracted players and sign their own players.

Fourth-tier and fifth-tier pathways
Converse to the idea of promotion, if any expansion side struggles to compete in the NRG or third division (NSW Cup or Queensland Cup), then being relegated to the fourth or fifth division is also an option for them.

Also, clubs in Asquith, Blacktown, Cabramatta, Glebe-Burwood, Guildford, Hills District, Mounties, St Mary’s, Wentworthville and Windsor in NSW as well as the current Queensland Cup teams listed below would still participate in their respective fourth or fifth division – as long as these community clubs each represent an NRL club within their catchment.

Jamal Fogarty

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)


Club structure from season 2021 onwards
The following is an overview of how clubs will be structured in their respective tiers under the revised expansion and elite pathways model.

Second tier: National Reserve Grade
• Parramatta Eels
• Newcastle Knights
• Penrith Panthers
• Sydney Roosters
• Canberra Raiders
• Manly Sea Eagles
• South Sydney Rabbitohs
• Wests Tigers
• Cronulla Sharks
• St George Illawarra Dragons
• Canterbury Bulldogs
• Melbourne Storm
• New Zealand Warriors
• North Queensland Cowboys
• Brisbane Broncos
• Gold Coast Titans
• Brisbane Bombers

Third tier: New South Wales Cup
• Parramatta Eels
• Newcastle Knights
• Penrith Panthers
• North Sydney Bears (Sydney Roosters)
• Mount Pritchard Mounties (Canberra Raiders)
• Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles (Manly Sea Eagles)
• South Sydney Rabbitohs
• Western Suburbs Magpies (Wests Tigers)
• Newtown Jets (Cronulla Sharks)
• St George Illawarra Dragons
• Canterbury Bulldogs
• Kaiviti Silktails
• Central Coast Bears
• North Country Bulls
• West Coast Pirates
• Adelaide Rams

Third tier: Queensland Cup
• Ipswich Jets (Newcastle Knights)
• Easts Tigers (Melbourne Storm)
• Sunshine Coast Falcons (Melbourne Storm)
• Mackay Cutters (North Queensland Cowboys)
• Northern Pride (North Queensland Cowboys)
• Townsville Blackhawks (North Queensland Cowboys)
• Redcliffe Dolphins (NZ Warriors)
• Norths Devils (Brisbane Broncos)
• Souths Logan Magpies (Brisbane Broncos)
• Wynnum Manly Seagulls (Brisbane Bombers)
• Burleigh Bears (Gold Coast Titans)
• Tweed Heads Seagulls (Gold Coast Titans)
• Papua New Guinea Hunters
• Central Queensland Capras
• South Pacific Cyclones
• Northern Territory

To reiterate, promotion into the second tier is achievable for any non-NRL-branded team given that they are not aligned with any NRL club. Similarly, if any expansion club struggles in their division then the option to be relegated to a lower division is available to them.


We are already seeing rugby league change immensely on and off the field in 2020 and my proposals will serve as a positive implementation from 2021 onward in order for our game to grow and prosper in the future.

Stay tuned for the unplanned, yet warranted, Part 3 finale of what rugby league should look like post-COVID.