Expansion bid ready to go in 2015
The city of Townsville could be just days away from announcing its second rugby league franchise, with final consideration being given by the NRL that could see the Townsville and Districts Blackhawks enter the Intrust Super Cup competition in 2015.
An announcement on the bid, led by Brothers Leagues Club Townsville, is expected sometime in the coming week after the NRL confirmed it is close to finalising its review of a proposal requesting additional funding for the bid.
Brothers Leagues Club Townsville CEO Justin Wilkins says every possible box has been ticked and they are currently in the last stages of negotiation with the NRL, which is the final step in securing the license to become the competition's 14th team.
"The Queensland Rugby League has accepted us into the competition in 2015, however it is dependent on us receiving additional funding through the NRL for an expansion team to come in; so that's our only hold-up at this stage. We had been advised that we should have an answer by the end of July," Wilkins told NRL.com.
"The club has been working behind the scenes and has already started putting plans in place as though the bid were to be successful. We have a number of sponsors ready to go if we do get in, and it's surprising the number of sponsors that are keen to jump on board as soon as we are given the nod.
"We're also working on uniforms and have been doing strength and conditioning training with squads all over town, and that has been happening for the last couple of months."
With North Queensland Cowboys feeder teams currently in Cairns (Northern Pride) and Mackay (Cutters), the expansion outfit will become a third channel for the NRL club, which will be able to tap into a larger local talent pool as a result of improved pathways for Townsville juniors.
Cowboys CEO Peter Jourdain is fully supportive of the bid, saying that it is a smart investment in the growth of aspiring professionals in the region.
"An Intrust Super Cup team in Townsville really makes sense. I've counted that we have about 70 players that come through the Cowboys junior system in North Queensland that are playing elsewhere in competitions, whether it's other NRL clubs or in the New South Wales Cup or other Intrust Super Cup teams. So we're producing the players and I think it just makes the pathways a lot clearer for those coming through," Jourdain said.
"Obviously in North Queensland we have the Pride and the Cutters and they have a natural progression through under-16s and 18s, and they can come into our 20s if they want, or they can go into their own Intrust Super League teams.
"With the current situation in Townsville, there's a little less choice. They come through the 16s, 18s and if they don't make our 20s or higher they will have to go out of town to Cairns or Mackay to progress through so I think it makes sense."
With an emphasis on creating the best possible environment for the development of rugby league players, Jourdain says this is a major improvement in the system, and stressed the need for the Cowboys to maintain involvement in the broader North Queensland area.
"We are and have to be a North Queensland club, so keeping in touch with the whole region is vital," he said.
"It means that we're investing more to grow our academies in centres like Cairns, Mackay and Rockhampton. It's a mechanism where those kids can stay in their home environments until they have all finished school and they've all got similar pathways through to the top level if they are good enough."