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NSWRL to NRL: The history of expansion in rugby league

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5 days ago
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1908 : THE FOUNDATION CLUBS

James Giltinan and other officials base their early clubs off those in Sydney Rugby in their bid to form a breakaway competition. Glebe, Newtown, South Sydney, Balmain, Eastern Suburbs, Newcastle, North Sydney and Western Suburbs all enter, while Cumberland join after the first round. Each have the same name as in Sydney Rugby, with only Western Suburbs changing their colours.

1910: ENTER ANNANDALE

The exit of Cumberland after a horror first season and Newcastle to their own competition at the end of 1909 sees Annandale join, with the majority of Sydney life still around the harbour.

1920-21: UNIVERSITY AND ST GEORGE

The move from rugby union to rugby league at Sydney University sees one of the most unsuccessful teams in the game’s history join in 1920. By season’s end, Annandale drop out and St George get their chance, 13 years after being approved to join as a foundation club but lacking the player numbers.

1935: CANTERBURY RISE

Sydney’s suburban sprawl saw Canterbury finally admitted in 1935 after several attempts to join. They take turf from St George and Western Suburbs after having previously set up their own junior league and playing in the second-tier President’s Cup.

1947: MANLY AND PARRAMATTA GRANTED ADMISSION

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The competition grows to 10 teams for the first time as two areas with strong rugby union backgrounds enter. Both Manly and Parramatta had tried to join since before World War II, which pushed back any expansion.

1967: PENRITH AND CRONULLA JOIN

Penrith and Cronulla are granted entry after the longest period in the game’s history without a change to the competition. Illawarra were favoured as an option, but the move was blocked by Country Rugby League.

1982: GOING REGIONAL

The first big expansion of the NSWRL with Illawarra and Canberra entering. Both teams struggle in their first season, but the game is on its first steps out of being a Sydney-only competition.

1988: INTO QUEENSLAND

Officials had first considered reducing the competition from 13 to 12 for the 1988 season, before backflipping and opting to instead expand after improvements in the game’s finances. In turn, it signified the biggest change in the game’s history with the addition of Brisbane as both a Queensland and privately owned club. Gold Coast also joined, albeit technically from NSW in Tweed Heads while Newcastle also marked a further shift into the NSW regions.

1995: NATIONAL EXPLOSION

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The NSWRL had initially intended to only add two teams when they met in 1992 before agreeing to go with the Western Reds, North Queensland, South Queensland and Auckland in a 20-team competition for 1995 with plans to later rationalise Sydney clubs. However, just weeks into the season the Super League War broke, changing the direction of the game.

1997-98: SUPER LEAGUE ADDITIONS

An Adelaide footprint became Super League’s next target while Hunter also came to fill a void in the Newcastle region after the Knights players knocked back a switch to the competition. Meanwhile both the ARL and Super League had set their sights on the Melbourne, who entered the NRL with success in 1998.

2007: GOLD COAST GET ANOTHER CHANCE

The Gold Coast region gets its second shot at a franchise, with Michael Searle convincing the NRL after initially being rejected in 2004. The Titans beat out the Central Coast Bears and Wellington.

2023: A SECOND BRISBANE TEAM

Years of debate over a 17th franchise end with a preference for a fourth Queensland team under the chairmanship of Peter V’landys. The Redcliffe-backed bid is set to claim the spot ahead of the Brisbane Firehawks and Ipswich-based Jets.

© AAP

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