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In Touch: Where should the game expand?

Sarah Coates NRL.com Tue, Jul 24, 2012 - 11:54 AM

Western Australia is pushing to re-join the NRL competition. Copyright: NRL Photos

We are heading into very exciting times in the game. While the television rights deal is being thrashed out – due to be announced by November – the other big issue is expansion and which bids will get the nod from the ARLC.

First, I have to stress why it is so important the NRL expansion does not fall into the same rut as other sporting codes, namely the AFL. New AFL franchises Greater Western Sydney and the Gold Coast Suns are struggling. I understand they are new and it takes time to get established. But just how long is their small fan base going to stick around and see them get smashed almost every week? Not long, I suspect.

Expansion should be about strengthening a game and providing more competition. At the risk of sounding glib, I believe franchises such as these only weaken the league. The NRL needs to ensure it has a strategic, no-risk solution to take the game forward.

Currently, seven consortiums are fighting it out but unfortunately, there is only room in the league for two.

Here’s what comes to mind when I think of expansion. Strength, junior base, revenue and potential for growth. In my eyes, to truly move rugby league forward and grow the comp into a national brand, Perth needs to be given a team. It just makes sense. Rugby league was progressing nicely in Western Australia when the Reds were in town from 1995-97. They were getting plenty of bums on seats and grassroots footy was being cultivated nicely.

But when the Super League war ended in ’97 and the two competitions became one, the Reds were sacrificed along with ARL franchise South Queensland Crushers. I think it shows a fair bit of ticker and determination to come back fifteen years later. Allowing WA to have a team also makes sense for TV, with the time difference meaning games can be shown live. Much better than some idiot sending you a text with the result, don’t you think? Also, the WARL was established in 1948, meaning it’s just a year younger than famous clubs like defending premiers Manly and the Parramatta Eels.

Another team for Queensland is a dead set no-brainer. I grew up in Queensland’s Western Corridor, near Ipswich . . . in that part of the world rugby league isn’t just a game, it’s a religion. I still remember my most prized possession as a kid. It was a plastic Mal Meninga figurine with a gigantic monobrow. I loved it. League was everything to us. We lived and breathed it. If we weren’t playing it, we were talking about it, trading our footy cards or watching a game. Now, 20 years on, league is still as popular as ever.

With more than 18,000 registered juniors in the catchment area of Ipswich, Toowoomba and Logan, you’d be right in saying this area is a rugby league heartland . . . and it’s only getting bigger. The Western Corridor is the fastest growing area in the country. A prime area for expansion. Lastly, a team based here would have the use of Suncorp Stadium, alleviating the need to build a new facility from scratch. The NRL needs to get in there and lay claim to the region before rival codes do.

While I’m all for Queensland having another team, Brisbane and CQ are not the answer. Here’s why. Brisbane ALREADY has the Broncos. I hardly think that fans are going to switch teams. Actually, I’ll bet money they won’t. I’m not saying the Bombers' bid is a dud – it has plenty of merit… not to mention the business nous and corporate clout that comes with having some of the former Broncos Thoroughbreds' members on board. It’ll be interesting to see how these blokes go. But I think a team that covers the area from Brisbane’s west out to Roma – home of the great Arthur Beetson – is a better option.

The crew running the Central Queensland outfit aren’t backing down, and while I’d like to see them succeed, I think there are stronger cases out there for a team. It’s the location that’s letting them down. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rocky and have had more than my share of good nights at the Great Western… I just can’t see it working logistically. The passion is there and the fans will turn up to watch, but at what stadium? One BIG thing these guys have up their sleeve is money… and LOTS of it thanks to the mining boom. I wish them luck.

I know I’m going to cop a fair bit for this…but seriously, New South Wales DOES NOT need another team. The market is already well and truly saturated. It’s a tough call, because the Central Coast has so many things going for them – proud and passionate fans, a membership base that rivals some existing NRL clubs, a CEO, a coach and a fantastic ground in Bluetongue Stadium. The emotional call will be to right the wrongs of a decade ago, when the poor old North Sydney Bears disappeared from the competition, swallowed up by Manly in the ill-fated Northern Eagles merger. But for expansion to be successful, the emotional element needs to be taken out and sadly, commercial interests taken care of.

It’s time for the Commission to do the right thing and, once the TV rights are taken care of, make an announcement on which bids will be the 17th and 18th teams in the NRL. With a combined total of more than $10m spent between the consortiums, it makes sense to reward the dollars and hard work.

Sarah Coates is a sports reporter for Channel 7 and a Premiership winning player for Mackay Brothers Football Club. She will be writing IN TOUCH for a month while Leila McKinnon is in London covering the Olympics.

Follow Sarah Coates on twitter: @SarahCoates13

The views in this article are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect the position of the NRL.