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NRL expansion history shows Redcliffe face hard path to success

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5 days ago
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Welcome to the club Redcliffe, it’s not going to be easy.

By the end of this week, a Redcliffe-based bid is set to become the competition’s 17th team – and 34th club in the history of the NSWRL, ARL, Super League and NRL.

Bid organisers will then turn it over to the community to determine their next major steps, including an official name to go with the Dolphins logo before joining the competition in 2023.

Since James Giltinan admitted nine clubs to mirror their rugby union counterparts in 1908, Redcliffe’s entry will mark rugby league’s 12th round of expansion.

And from Annandale in 1910 to the second attempt at a Gold Coast franchise in 2007, there will be plenty of pundits who will say the Dolphins will have a difficult time making an immediate impact.

That’s because rugby league’s storied efforts to grow have never been simple – on or off the field.

Be it St George’s entrance in 1921 coming 13 years after they were first cleared to join but ran short of players, or Canterbury, Manly and Parramatta pushing for years before finally getting a side.

“It was about the population spread (in the early decades),” historian Terry Williams told AAP.

“They weren’t worried too much about the pace of expansion. It was just a natural progression.

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“And they were fairly resistant to sharing the pie around.

“For instance when Marrickville wanted to enter in 1912, they had a fairly strong district but I think people realised the implications of it.

“Because even back then there was a cartel running the game.”

Turf wars over district rules were also a factor but not as much of a concern, even if Western Suburbs did famously thank Parramatta in 1947 for leaving them the Sydney suburb of Rookwood, an area geographically dominated by a cemetery.

The game has changed immensely since then, going regional in 1982, to Queensland in 1988 and national in 1995 before Super League altered the game’s path again.

All bar the lucky few still share a similar story on the field.

Of the new teams that have entered as single entities since Annandale in 1910, 17 of 21 have suffered a losing record in their first season.

Brisbane, Auckland and Melbourne are the only teams to start well, with the Western Reds also going 11-11 in 1995.

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The average wait for a premiership has been 20 years, with the Storm again the only team to lift the trophy in their first couple of seasons.

But even that came at a time when the competition was contracting rather than expanding out of Super League.

Nine clubs have come and gone without even winning a title, while the Warriors and Gold Coast are still battling to end their wait at 27 and 15 seasons respectively.

Even making the finals is no easy feat early on, with an average wait time of seven years.

“There were always plenty of good footballers around, but there always seems to be a dearth of decent administrators and coaches,” Williams said.

But with Wayne Bennett as likely coach, the Dolphins should have some chance of avoiding that issue.

“If you get the balance right, as Melbourne have shown from day one, it’s possible to succeed,” Williams added.

“It wasn’t like they signed a star-studded team and they’ve never picked the eyes out of team.

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“Brisbane are a different story because they have a star team and Canterbury still made a final in the second year.”

There’s also no doubt life is a little easier for new teams entering now.

Redcliffe’s maiden year will look nothing like what Canterbury went through in 1935, where they didn’t have a home ground, trained in a cow paddock and twice conceded more than 85 points in a game.

Instead of relying solely on local talent, the Dolphins will have a fair crack at more than 100 current players who become free agents on November 1.

They already have a strong history in the Queensland Cup, and a firm training base in Redcliffe that they claim will be equal to what the Broncos have at Red Hill.

Likewise, the club has $100 million in assets, insistent they are the best option to become the first side to enter the NRL in 16 years.

“The Dolphins are NRL-ready and can start tomorrow,” bid director Terry Reader said in a statement.

“The Dolphins have a detailed 100-day plan ready to initiate as soon as we are awarded an NRL licence to ensure we can be highly competitive from what could be our very first season in 2023.”

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© AAP

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