Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NRL to suspend the 2020 competition, expansion was a hot topic and Brisbane was all but certain to receive a second franchise to take on the Broncos when the next broadcast deal is finalised for the 2023 season.
The Australian Rugby League Commission instructed the NRL to form a special committee to investigate expansion options. Perth had been discarded by commission chairman Peter V’landys, leaving Brisbane bid teams the Brisbane Bombers, Redcliffe Dolphins, Easts Tigers and the Western Corridor (Ipswich-Logan) lining up to argue their case to obtain the NRL’s 17th license.
Unfortunately the pandemic has thrown those plans into disarray with the uncertainty surrounding future broadcast deals and how long it will take for the game to once again become financially viable, as well as ensuring the survival of its current 16 clubs.
With the competition set to recommence on May 28th, plans for expansion will likely be put on the backburner, at least until the NRL gets back on its feet. But it’s still in the best interest of the game long term for the competition to expand, especially in Brisbane where there’s a huge market, junior base and a desire to see more games played at Suncorp Stadium.
Redcliffe were rumoured to be favourites as they’re a well-established club supported by a profitable leagues club and the Brisbane Bombers have reportedly been revived after it was reported that five anonymous businessmen worth more than $50 million are looking to back their bid.Embed from Getty Images
Steve Johnson, the chairman of the Ipswich Jets QRL club and Western Corridor bid which represents Ipswich, Logan, Toowoomba, Lockyer Valley and the Darling Downs, is adamant about the need for a fourth Queensland team.
“Presently, Queensland has 45% of all rugby league players but the NRL is comprised of three Queensland teams and 11 New South Wales teams, so Queensland currently has 20% of state-based NRL clubs, yet 45% of its players.
“The games projection for 2026 is 19,075 players in the Western Corridor out of Queensland’s 69,733 total players. So 27% of all Queensland rugby league players will be based in the Western Corridor and presently they have no direct pathway into the NRL. This compares to the 3452 players that Redcliffe will house and 13,054 players in Brisbane” said Johnson.
If expansion doesn’t go ahead, thousands of juniors throughout Queensland could be lost to the game and to make matters more urgent, the AFL and Brisbane Lions have already begun moving into the western and southern regions of Brisbane, poaching not only rugby league juniors, but the land in Springfield which the Western Corridor bid had eyed as their NRL base.
The NRL have been behind the eight-ball for decades now when it comes to expansion and there’s no doubt that current events will make it even more difficult to implement.
But once the NRL has managed its way through the 2020 season and (hopefully) life returns to normal, expansion must return to the list of top priorities.
Feature Photo by : kgbo