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My 10-year plan for NRL expansion

Rosie new author
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24th February, 2022
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Rosie new author
Roar Rookie
24th February, 2022
76
2060 Reads

Imagine a day when the NRL has a presence in every mainland state, the ACT and New Zealand; a day when the NRL is truly a national competition.

This vision could become reality within ten years. The ARL Commission needs to release its future plan for the NRL and state-based competitions, a plan that communicates to the stakeholders of the game what we are aspiring to achieve.

A ten-year plan is what we need, a time frame for clubs and stakeholders to work towards. Everything the ARL Commission has done to date has been reactive. It’s time to be proactive. 

Nathan Cleary in the NRL grand final

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

My vision for the game would see the realisation of a national competition, a strengthening of the state competitions and a strengthening of the international game in our region.

A move to create an appetite for rugby league in new regions through clear pathways. A move to ensure rugby league has access to the best and most talented athletes in the country.

It’s not just expansion of the NRL that needs to be looked at, it’s the growth and expansion of the Queensland and New South Wales state competitions.

Also, long-term strategic planning of the existing clubs, be it location, junior development and pathways. I have put together a seven-step plan the ARL Commission must follow. 

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The NRL’s recent decision to move from 16 to 17 teams is great and naturally what makes sense is a move to 18 teams as soon as practical. The ninth game each week will surely be a winner for the TV rights, and I personally would love an additional game to watch each week.

We could easily have a Thursday night game, two Friday night games, three Saturday games and three Sunday games.

A move to a 20-team competition and ten games per week may see the return of Monday night footy, or with different time zones, four games on either Saturday or Sunday. 

Step 1: The year of the Dolphin

The promotion of the Dolphins to the top tier was a great move, one that I fully support. They are making a huge mistake by not calling themselves the Moreton Bay Dolphins.

The NRL allowed this mistake and need to rectify this and ensure Moreton Bay is added to the name. NRL is a game built on tribalism. People get passionate about their region and their town.

Calling the Dolphins the Moreton Bay Dolphins gives the club a sense of identity and a sense of belonging. The Moreton Bay region through to the Sunshine Coast region is huge and growing.

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The Melbourne Storm have attempted to claim the Sunshine Coast region as their own but I don’t agree with that, the Storm need to develop talent in Victoria.

The Dolphins should be playing their home games out of Moreton Daily Stadium with two or four games per season out of the Sunshine Coast Stadium.

The scope of possibilities north of Brisbane are incredible. Currently there are no other NRL, AFL, A-League or rugby union franchises attempting to set up a full-time operation in this region.

There are something like 830,000 people living in the Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast regions combined, and it is growing rapidly! 

Wayne Bennett

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Step 2: Jets take flight

Let’s push on and secure the Queensland market as one of the great rugby league heartlands. The NRL needs to act quickly and work with the Brisbane Jets to promote them to the top tier by 2025. This would allow the Dolphins two seasons to settle into the NRL.

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The city of Ipswich and the western corridor through to Toowoomba is crucial to the game of rugby league in Australia and crucial to the success of the NRL. Securing the Queensland market really cements State of Origin as the premier rivalry in Australian domestic sport and really one of the great rivalries in international sport.

This move ensures future generations of talent from the city of Ipswich and western corridor through to Toowoomba can aspire to play top-tier rugby league for their local team.

This production line of talent will ensure more young people aspire to play for Queensland and continue the great history of Origin. The showpiece of the domestic game is Origin and ensuring its continued strength is imperative.

Holding down the NSW and Queensland markets as rugby league heartlands is crucial. There is a push from the AFL in Ipswich, however Ipswich is a rugby league stronghold and thus we need to ensure it is looked after.

Again looking at growth and population, the City of Ipswich and western corridor through to Toowoomba is home to something like 450,000 people and targeted by the Queensland government for huge population growth over the next ten years.

Administered and based out a redeveloped North Ipswich Reserve, the Brisbane Jets would play all home games out of Suncorp Stadium. 

So five teams by 2025 for Queensland, a just reward for a state that has had a huge impact on rugby league over its history.

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Growing up in Sydney and travelling around to the different grounds was such a great experience. Now living in Queensland I would love to have that experience in the Sunshine State.

Step 3: Bula! Friends from the South Pacific join the party

One big change the ARL Commission needs to make in conjunction with the QRL is to exit the Tweed Heads Seagulls and enter the Fiji Silktails.

Fiji needs to have a presence alongside PNG in the Australian system. There is too much untouched talent in Fiji to be ignored. Rugby league needs to chase the world’s best athletes and talent.

As for the Tweed Heads Seagulls, well the Burleigh Bears would surely have the entire catchment covered, Tweed Heads would continue to play in the GCRL competition as they do now. Fiji have a team ready to go competing in the Ron Massey Cup.

If I were running the Titans, I would be signing up with the Wynnum-Manly Seagulls as a feeder club along with the Burleigh Bears. The Dolphins likewise should be signing up with the Sunshine Coast Falcons along with their own Redcliffe Dolphins, once the Storm have their own reserve grade team in Melbourne. 

The Brisbane Jets naturally will use the Ipswich Jets, and as they have stated Central Queensland Capras as feeder clubs.

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We are seeing more coverage of the Q Cup via Fox Sports so this will continue to grow and provide revenue to support the Q Cup expansion. We may even see North of the Border make a comeback on Fox Sports. 

Step 4: The Saints go marching in to Wollongong

The St George Illawarra Dragons absolutely need to fully embrace Wollongong as their home and make a permanent move to the Gong.

What a spectacular stadium they have there in WIN Stadium. It should be used all the time for home games. A centre of excellence or academy could be built in conjunction with the NRL and state government.

Cody Ramsey

(Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There have been concerns from people over the years that the Sydney market has too many clubs, well the NRL has an opportunity to negotiate a permanent move of the Dragons to Wollongong.

The passion for rugby league in and around Wollongong is as strong as anywhere in the country, and with a population over 300,000 people, and further support from the existing Dragon Army around Kogarah, this gives a strong base to continue to grow from.

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A club needs a home base. It creates an aura and an identity for that club. 

Step 5: Wests Tigers go west

The Wests Tigers must make a move to Campbeltown. This would allow them to invest and participate heavily in the south-west of Sydney.

There is no doubt this region of Sydney is a growth area and another stronghold of rugby league. Just look at the success of the Penrith Panthers, developing local juniors and looking to the country regions and bringing talent into their system successfully in the west.

The Wests Tigers really need to look at this type of system closely. The south west is a gold mine. Also the Wests Tigers need to stop being the nomads of the NRL and have one home ground. They should stick with Stadium Australia and set up their high performance and administration centre at Campbelltown Stadium.

It won’t make a difference to the fans if they are based out of Campbeltown and play out of Stadium Australia. Look at the success South Sydney and Canterbury have had with moving home games to Stadium Australia.

There is a great opportunity for the NRL to use the three clubs playing out of Stadium Australia to their advantage. When one of the clubs is playing a home game there, they should allow ticketed members of any NRL club free entry. Try and get 40-50,000 people attending these games. 

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Alex Twal

(Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If the NRL are serious about setting up for future success, the correct location of the two joint-venture clubs could be a game changer.

It will require some heavy investment but it’s better to do it now and get the structure and geographical spread correct.

This investment may come in increased salary cap allocation as they did in the first place to get these clubs to merge. It could be funding towards centres of excellence or academies, perhaps even grants to fund community initiatives. 

NSW-based NRL clubs should be represented under their own name in reserve grade and under-21s. Only the Roosters, who have a very small catchment, should continue to use the North Sydney Bears. It’s nice to have the Bears still around.

As with the Q Cup, we are seeing more coverage of the NSW Cup and again this will assist to generate revenue to support the NSW Cup expansion. 

Step 6: The Storm settles in Melbourne

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Melbourne needs to have a Victoria-based reserve grade side and under-21s side playing in the NSW Cup. There has been a Victorian Thunderbolts side getting around in some lower grades. Having a Melbourne Storm side would be much more effective though.

The Storm have been around for 25 years now and the ARL Commission needs to ensure the game is growing in Victoria.

There is a rugby league following through the Riverina region that borders Victoria. I am sure they could capture some talent in this area. 

I don’t see the point of the Storm being around for 25 years and still having to fill their roster with young Queensland talent and base them in Queensland. Call me crazy but it makes no sense.

Storm players celebrate winning the NRL Qualifying Final.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Step 7: The final frontier

Establishing an Adelaide and Perth team in the NSW Cup will require investment from the NRL, however not nearly what the cost of running an NRL expansion team would be in these cities.

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This will come in good time. Ensuring a clear pathways program in Adelaide and Perth will create interest in the game and if those teams can play against the likes of the Sydney clubs, it will again increase the interest. 

For the point of this article let’s call them the Adelaide Rams and Perth Reds. How exciting for the fans of Adelaide to go watch the Rams play the Roosters or Rabbitohs. Likewise the Reds would play the Tigers or Panthers.

Introducing Adelaide and Perth into the NSW Cup will lead to promotion to the NRL by 2032. A ten-year plan implemented now would allow sufficient time for these states, cities, clubs to prepare for the NRL.

I have heard people say what’s the point of setting up in the rusted-on AFL states, well how do you explain all the other sports that have done so?

A-League, NBL, Super Netball, Big Bash – you need to start somewhere. What’s that old saying? The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Sure, it may be the case that neither Adelaide or Perth will ever be promoted to the top tier, the numbers may not stack up, but if we don’t try, we will never know.

A general view of play at Optus Stadium

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

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I watched a YouTube clip of Eddie McGuire talking up expansion of the AFL. He talked about a 19th based in Tasmania, that was not a surprise.

The surprise for me was the proposal he put forward for a team in far North Queensland, or a third team in Western Australia.

The AFL holds no fear of going into rugby league heartland, or further strengthening a market like Perth. Why should the NRL not dream big? 

This is my proposal for the NRL, NSW Cup and Queensland Cup.

NRL

North Queensland Cowboys
Moreton Bay Dolphins (2023)
Brisbane Broncos
Brisbane Jets (2025)
Gold Coast Titans
Newcastle Knights
Manly Sea Eagles
Sydney Roosters
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Cronulla Sharks
Canterbury Bulldogs
Parramatta Eels
Penrith Panthers
Wests Tigers
St George Illawarra Dragons
Canberra Raiders
Melbourne Storm
NZ Warriors
Adelaide Rams (2032)
Perth Reds (2032)

NSW Cup

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Newcastle Knights
Manly Sea Eagles
North Sydney Bears
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Cronulla Sharks
Canterbury Bulldogs
Parramatta Eels
Penrith Panthers
Wests Tigers
St George Illawarra Dragons
Canberra Raiders
Melbourne Storm (2023)
Adelaide Rams (2025)
Perth Reds (2025)

Tom Starling of the Raiders in action

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Queensland Cup

Fiji Silktails (2023)
PNG Hunters
Northern Pride
Townsville Blackhawks
Mackay Cutters
Central Queensland Capras
Sunshine Coast Falcons
Redcliffe Dolphins
Norths Devils
Brisbane Tigers
Ipswich Jets
Souths Magpies
Wynnum-Manly Seagulls
Burleigh Bears

Some footnotes worth mentioning.

There are no New Zealand Warriors lower grades sides competing. New Zealand has a junior rugby league system in place and can continue to develop their own talent.

The focus of the Queensland and NSW Cups is to develop the game in new regions and also provide a competitive level for players on the cusp of first grade or returning from injury or perhaps players retired from top-tier rugby league and wanting to play on. 

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Why not have a national reserve grade? Well, why have 18 or 20 teams when you can have 28. Also the states do a good job administering the competitions now and need to do so to keep a relationship with localised A-grade competitions or third-tier competitions.

All states have established A-grade competitions or third-tier competitions that act as feeder clubs to state-based leagues or state-based teams. 

An example of the state-based A-grade competitions or third-tier comps are as follows. The Brisbane and Newcastle competitions are as stated on the respective websites. The NSW comp or Ron Massey Cup could look like this. 

Brisbane A-Grade

Brighton Roosters
Pine Rivers Bears
Wests Panthers
Normanby Hounds
Fortitude Valley Diehards
Bulimba Bulldogs
Carina Tigers
Beenleigh Pride

Denton Engineering Cup

Central Newcastle Butcher Boys
South Newcastle Lions
West Newcastle Rosellas
Kurri Kurri Bulldogs
Maitland Pumpkin Pickers
Cessnock Goannas
Macquarie Scorpions
Lakes United Seagulls
Wyong Roos
Entrance Tigers

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Ron Massey Cup

Balmain Tigers
Newtown Jets
Wentworthville Magpies
Blacktown Workers
St Marys Saints
Penrith Brothers
Guildford Owls
Cabramatta Two Blues
Mount Pritchard Mounties
Western Suburbs Magpies

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