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Reds... Pirates... Bears - call them whatever you want, so long as Perth is next in line for NRL expansion

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Roar Rookie
28th May, 2024
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Once again the NRL is talking expansion and they are tossing up new franchise possibilities like an Italian chef preparing a pizza base or an Aussie pub cook juggling a hot potato.

I keep hearing that the first franchise off the rank to join the NRL as the 18th team will be a club from Papua New Guinea. Every time I hear that I can’t help but ask, what about Perth?

Why is the Australian National Rugby League overlooking an untapped resource in their own backyard? A resource that had only started to scratch the surface for three years before it was scrapped, apparently because the Western Reds had accumulated a debt as a result of the club having to pay the airfares for all visiting teams! What the?

If any new horizon is going to succeed in Australia then it would be Perth. It’s the obvious choice for the next NRL club for me with over 2 million people living in the capital city of Australia’s biggest state by land mass – it’s a no-brainer! Otherwise, the NRL should change its name to EARL (Eastern Australia Rugby League).

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 09: NRL CEO Andrew Abdo speaks to the media during a press conference at Rugby League Central on August 09, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Three of the top four countries of birth in WA (outside of Australia) are England, New Zealand and South Africa – all rugby playing nations. There are also lots of people from the eastern side of Australia who have moved to WA for work. Perth also has two suitable existing stadiums: Optus Stadium, with a capacity of 60,000, and the rectangular HBF Park, with a 20,500 seating capacity.

I heard Andrew Abdo talk about what they are looking for in regards to expansion. He talked about growing the game in the Pacific. He said it’s a conversation around “the Broader Pacific Strategy”, making rugby league the showpiece sport in the Pacific, with Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, PNG, Tonga, and Samoa at the centre.

If that’s the case, then another team based in New Zealand or Australia makes more sense to me. Surely a club based in New Zealand’s South Island would help more with their broader Pacific strategy? And as Andrew Abdo said, the Pacific strategy does include growing the game in Australia. Well then, go back to Perth and the untapped rugby league mine that was abandoned 27 years ago.

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It has been suggested the PNG team will be based in Cairns? That’s in Queensland! (insert music by Denis Carnahan). So it’s actually another Queensland club. And does that mean that all young PNG players coming through the new clubs pathways are eligible to play for Queensland too?

Are politics playing a part in this decision? Is it possible that the Australian Government is throwing a heap of money at this franchise deal to try and sure up Papua New Guinea’s loyalty so that it doesn’t cosy up with China? It’s reported that if PNG are given the 18th ticket, the Australian Government is offering as much as $600 million dollars over ten years to the NRL to launch the nascent club.

However, I also heard it suggested that the NRL may only get $10 million per year of that money, which is still $100 million in total. Is this simply about money and not about strategy? Is this about the Australian Government giving a big cash injection to the NRL if they help a brother out? Because I think that PNG is ten years away from being ready to host an NRL franchise.

It’s also been reported that the NRL is considering imposing a $50 million dollar licence fee on the PNG franchise to be divided between the 17 existing NRL clubs. In my opinion, that figure might be a little short. I think as much as $85 million would be more acceptable because the government is tipping in money for ten years to keep the PNG franchise afloat but without that money, I doubt they would be financially viable. The airfares and hidden costs for the NRL and existing 17 clubs over ten years could total more than the $50 million dollar licence fee. And after ten years if the PNG club isn’t financially independent then the NRL will have lost on their investment.

Justin Olam was asked the question if he thought a PNG franchise would work and his response was “I don’t know.” How many of the players who will run out for the NRL’s newest franchise in 2028 will be from Papua New Guinea? Justin Olam will be 34 in 2028 and when he was asked if he wanted to play for the potential newest franchise, Olam gave no indication that he would like to. I think $1 million of the $10 million dollars per year the Australian Government is pledging would have to be paid to Justin Olam per season to make sure he plays for the PNG franchise. In my opinion, he didn’t sound like he was enthusiastic about moving to Port Moresby.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 23: Justin Olam of the Tigers looks on during the round three NRL match between Wests Tigers and Cronulla Sharks at Leichhardt Oval, on March 23, 2024, in Sydney, Australia.

(Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

When it comes to a Perth club there is one matter that I do have an issue with and that is this idea about Perth Bears playing home games at North Sydney Oval. That’s in Sydney! So another Sydney team? I could live with one game a season played at North Sydney Oval or Gosford Stadium but any more than one is silly. Grow the game in Western Australia. Play home games in Perth. Don’t forget that Magic Round could take another home game away from Perth and so that’s already two less home games, leaving no more than ten home games per season for a club trying to find its feet. The NRL would need West Australians to buy into their club and playing two, three or four home games a year in Sydney isn’t going to do it.

From what I can gather, the NRL decision makers’ “Broader Pacific Strategy” is to bring in another Queensland and Sydney team? Hello? Is that the best idea the NRL have to make rugby league the sport in the Pacific? That sounds like they’re growing their EARL competition and getting $600 million dollars from the Australian Government to do it.

I believe if the NRL had stuck with the Western Reds then league in Western Australia would be bigger than it currently is in Victoria, even with all the success the Melbourne Storm has had and the attraction Origin games have drawn. I believe participation and growth of the game in WA would be better than Victoria and we would have players currently running around in the NRL that were developed through WA pathways.

Bring in PNG second or third, but Perth should be the next in line for expansion. Western Reds, Perth Pirates, Perth Crocodiles, Taipans or even Bears, it doesn’t matter, they’re overdue, just make Perth the 18th NRL club.

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