Whether you love him or loathe him, you have to admire the fact that Peter V’landys is a man with a vision which is supported by the determination to see it become a reality.
His rhetoric around expansion is an indicator of this, with a clear pathway being outlined towards the introduction of new teams while identifying the locations they should be represented.
This type of definitive blueprint may have existed under previous administrations, but the depth of detail released to the public hasn’t been forthcoming until recently.
Since taking over the reins, V’landys and Andrew Abdo have been upfront about their desire to have NRL action in Brisbane every weekend with the competition growing to include a second Brisbane outfit.
Not long after this, V’landys shot down expansion-hopes in the West with Perth told they were not on the expansion radar. With most pundits having the Pirates next in line after Brisbane 2 and a 17-team competition minimising the value of expansion, questions started to arise around who should become the NRL’s 18th team.
With the NRL’s new ‘open-book’ approach, Andrew Abdo has recently suggested NZ2 should join the league as Team 18 with Wellington being eyed off as a likely home. Hot on the heels of this suggestion and a demonstration that NRL power brokers are dead-serious about expansion, the prospect of conferences becoming embedded with an 18-team competition was floated this week.
So there’s a lot to unpack in regards to the NRL expansion narrative over the last 18 months. Personally I think we’re ready and I agree that a second presence in Brisbane is the frontrunner. Does that mean another team should be introduced on the back of Brisbane 2 to bring the competition up to 18 teams? Probably.
That said, I think the NRL is missing an opportunity in turning their nose up at Perth, while Wellington hardly presents an ideal choice (strong rugby presence, small population etc.). But that’s an article for another day.
I believe there’s another pathway to 18 teams that’s far more logical and its starring the NRL in the face. All it involves is sitting down with one of the existing bid teams and suggesting a slight change in tact to get them over the line.
I’m looking at you, Redcliffe Dolphins!
What I would suggest is bringing in the Brisbane Jets or Brisbane Firehawks as the city’s legitimate second team.
Both of these teams have suggested their roots lie south of the river with the Firehawks being based out of the Brisbane Tigers (formally Easts Tigers) home in Coorparoo and representing the entire southside including Logan and Redlands.
Meanwhile, the Jets originally sold themselves as the ‘Western Corridor’ bid which was based in Ipswich and extended east to Logan. Following the Bombers merger, you would have to assume the new entity will have a metropolitan Brisbane presence too.
Whether it’s the Jets or the Firehawks, they play out of Suncorp Stadium and would add noise to the already substantial calls for a ‘boutique’ rectangle venue for Brisbane.
A redesigned QEII would be a perfect fit for establishing the new entity as a second Brisbane team with a ‘whole city’ presence but roots dug in on the southside.
The Dolphins on the other hand are based on the far north side of the greater Brisbane area in Redcliffe. Redcliffe is the smallest of the three merged councils that now make up the countries third largest local government area (LGA)- Moreton Bay Region.
The Dolphins are nothing short of a ‘super club’ with $100m reportedly behind them and a 12,000-seat stadium next to an impressive leagues club. While their stadium sets the benchmark in the Intrust Super Cup, it falls well short of the baseline in the NRL realm.
As a second Brisbane team though, their proposal also involves playing most of their home games at Suncorp Stadium alongside the Broncos.
What I would suggest the NRL do is sit down with the Dolphins and encourage them to turn their attention away from the south where their rivals are entrenched and focus on the north which is effectively unrepresented.
Admit the Dolphins as the NRL’s 18th team alongside a ‘proper’ Brisbane 2 in the Jets or Firehawks. While the Broncos and whichever new Brisbane team play in and represent metropolitan Brisbane (and those south and west local government areas), the Dolphins represent Moreton Bay Region up to Noosa, base from the Redcliffe Leagues club and play their games at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
This model is similar to St George Illawarra where the team train in Wollongong but play the majority of their games in Sydney.
Sunshine Coast Stadium current capacity is 15,000, with plans to take the seated capacity to almost 17,000. The long-term vision for the stadium is to take its capacity to 23 and a half thousand which will bring it up to full time NRL standard.
Fortunately for the Dolphins, there’s a state government that’s in the process of finalising a bid for the 2032 Olympic Games that’s effectively theirs to lose. Once this is confirmed, there will be a need for stadium investment and being the first ‘region-based’ Games, a place like the Sunshine Coast is at the head of the queue to become a beneficiary.
As governments are determined to ensure investment is steered towards sustainable projects and not ones that are destined to become white elephants; it checks a lot of boxes to bring a stadium online that will become the full time home of a new NRL team.
In terms of the region the Dolphins will represent, it effectively aligns with their current plan of representing Moreton Bay Region and the Sunshine Coast. It would just concentrate their following to the north to allow another team to compete for the bulk of the greater Brisbane market with the Broncos.
And there’s more than enough to go around with 900,000 people living between Moreton Bay Region, the Sunshine Coast and Noosa Shire which would all become known as Dolphin-country. Meanwhile, there’s over two million people living across the rest of greater Brisbane (minus Moreton Bay) which presents a substantial pie for two Brisbane-based teams.
If the Dolphins get the green light from the NRL, they’re likely to have to confront the name-change conundrum with Redcliffe representing such a small part of their proposed territory. The front-runner seems to be the Moreton Bay Dolphins due to the fact that Redcliffe is now a part of the Moreton Bay Regional council.
This limits the new entities potential somewhat due to the fact that they are closing themselves off to just the half a million people that reside in this LGA. That’s by no-means a critical issue as it still holds a considerable population but if they’re to become a second Brisbane team, they’re really only representing 20 per cent of greater Brisbane.
Unless they opt for the Brisbane Dolphins, I think they will struggle to connect to Brisbane-based fans that are from outside Moreton Bay Region. Similarly, I don’t know if those on the Sunshine Coast will buy-in to the Moreton Bay Dolphins becoming their team either.
If they were to become the North Coast Dolphins however, it would bind Moreton Bay to the entire Sunshine Coast which is a fast-growing area of over 400,000 people with no other competitors in sight. It also paves the way for a legitimate second team to enter the greater Brisbane landscape and take the competition up to 18 teams.
This strategic and very slight realignment of interests will see two strong bids taken and avoids connecting with a team that’s underprepared and nowhere near as advanced in the bidding process. It will also finally provide adequate coverage of one of the country’s largest and fastest growing urban conglomerates in South East Queensland.
With Noosa to the border representing a population that is fast approaching four million people, four teams in the Dolphins, Broncos, Firehawks/Jets and Titans will ensure rugby league is accessible to the millions of people that make up this important heartland for the game.