The National Rugby League (NRL) is soon to announce the 17th team in an expanded competition.
Meanwhile, word is already leaking out: the Premiership may extend to 18 teams in the next five years. Is there a place for the Bears?
The NRL were desperate for a second Brisbane team. Yet, of the three current bids, only the Brisbane Firehawks are locally based in Brisbane, and it appears that despite this fact that Redcliffe is favoured to win the bid. So, then which bid is next for the 18th team?
Will it be the next best bid from these recent franchise applications? Will it be a second New Zealand team? Or the West Coast Pirates? Or, could is it possible that a club discarded and abandoned by the game gets its rightful place back in the Premiership?
The North Sydney Bears were a foundation club of rugby league in Australia. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the Civil War of Super League, they did not meet the criteria set to continue at the elite level. Yes, a ridiculous merger/takeover with/by their arch-rivals (which resulted in the atrocious Northern Eagles) allowed them to continue briefly before being once more relegated to second class status and surviving as a feeder team for other NRL teams.
If the game is to expand to 18 teams, where will this expansion take place and is there a place for the Bears?
Bringing the Bears back has a sense of justice to it. There is a population base (roughly 600,000 people) in the North Sydney District catchment to support a fan-base. Furthermore, if the Bears re-entered as a North Sydney Central Coast outfit, the club caters to two regions and a million people.
Though, there are issues with this model. Where do the Bears play most of their games? Central Coast or North Sydney. Moreover, the Central Coast has been adopted by the Eastern Suburbs Roosters as their junior base. With this in mind, the Bears coming back weakens an established club.
I get what you are saying – “It is the Roosters; they have no fans! Who cares?” The answer is as simple as true – the Roosters and their fans do, and the NRL administration does. In fact, all Sydney clubs would be hard-pressed to support the reintroduction of a local competitor.
On top of all this, a Perth-based team or a second New Zealand club expand the game’s footprint. And considering this may add eyeballs to television screens that may end up purchasing Foxtel, it gives these other bids an advantage over the Bears.
There is also a possibility that if Redcliffe is not permitted as the 17th franchise, then they may be given the 18th and be classed as a Moreton Bay / Sunshine Coast regional team. In either case, the Bears remain stranded in the second tier of the sport.
Though, despite the obstacles, there are questions fans of the mighty North Sydney Bears must ask their administration. What financial proposal is the administration putting to the NRL to gain entry into the elite level in the future?
Would the club be North Sydney or Central Coast-based? What processes is the club putting together to ensure they are at the top of any future expansion list? Is there enough genuine support for the Bears re-entry? Is the club even attempting to gain re-entry into the Telstra Premiership?
I wonder, would the North Sydney Bears members support the club’s relocation to Adelaide or Perth on the condition of entry?
The whispers of the club lacking funds suitable for the NRL won’t hold water when supporters believe (rightly or wrongly) that if the Bears were given the same funding as the other Sydney-based clubs, they would be in an almost equal position financially.
In the end, it would be nice if the NRL at least entertained the idea of North Sydney’s return by letting the Bears pitch their proposal and then made a judgement based on the value of the Bears bid. Also, if NRL denied the request to re-join, then let the fans know why minus any political spin.
All in all, I do hope that the NRL one day sees fit to allow the Bears back to their rightful place – a foundation club competing at the highest level in Australia.