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How the first Super League rumblings arrived in 1994

Three years before rugby league had two competitions in Australia, talk of a dramatic revamp of the game was already on the agenda.

Driven by the hugely successful Brisbane Broncos, plans for a new-look game were bubbling away.

History shows what unfolded in the following years, but this Rugby League Week article from 1994 provides a great snapshot of the prevailing attitudes in the game.

Titled 'World Series League?', this article was first published by Rugby League Week on March 2, 1994, written by Tony Durkin

A breakaway Rugby League competition, similar to World Series Cricket and conducted along the lines of the NBA in America, has been mooted as relations between the NSW Rugby League and the Broncos deteriorate.

The Broncos declined to comment on the "whisper" when it was put to them at the weekend, but the financial backers of the code's most successful club are known to be increasingly exasperated at what they see as nit-picking by the League.

Last week NSWRL chief executive John Quayle announced an investigation into the financial affairs of the Broncos.

Gavin Allen, Kerrod Walters, Steve Renouf and Andrew Gee.
Gavin Allen, Kerrod Walters, Steve Renouf and Andrew Gee. ©NRL Photos

The Broncos recently sold a 20 per cent interest in their operation to Northern Rivers Holdings Ltd., a company listed on the stock exchange and chaired by Broncos boss Paul Morgan.

Quayle also revealed last week that the League would be investigating possible salary cap breaches by the premiers.

He suggested in last weekend's press that possible ramifications could embrace the withholding of prize money and their cut of sponsorship with TV spoils.

Morgan would not be drawn into speculation that other clubs may be interested in a breakaway competition without a "middle man", but suggested that Newcastle, the Western Reds and the Auckland Warriors had shown an interest in private ownership.

World Series Cricket revolutionised the summer game when Kerry Packer stepped in back in 1977. Television is the financial backbone of Rugby League, and the same result is not beyond comprehension.

Love them or hate them - and that seems to be the way it is with the Broncos - no-one can deny the impact they have had on Rugby League in just six years.

Before they came into being, the code in Queensland was on its knees, despite the presence of internationals of the ilk of Wally Lewis, Gene Miles, Greg Dowling and Bryan Niebling.

Two premierships later, Brisbane has given the League a whole new stature. In 1993, the club generated crowds at ANZ Stadium which almost trebled the next best club attendance.

Already for 1994, season ticket sales guarantee them a home crowd of 15,000 for each match. As well, three of the most-watched 10 television programs in Queensland last year were Broncos matches.

Allan Langer in action for Brisbane in 1994.
Allan Langer in action for Brisbane in 1994. ©NRL Photos

While clubs like Newcastle and Wests struggle to entice a major sponsor, the Broncos had them beating a path to their door, and finally signed one of Australia's biggest companies - News Corporation - to a deal reputedly worth in excess of $2 million a year. In total, the Broncos had 275 individual sponsors.

In six seasons the Broncos had produced nine internationals, which says something of their scouting, development and coaching schemes.

The Broncos may well be arrogant or, as Quayle said at the weekend, they may adopt a "screw everyone else" attitude.

But isn't that how all big businesses today operate? What is wrong with Morgan and his fellow directors making money? After all, they guaranteed $2.5 million of their own cash to start the Broncos and then spent $750,000 on a club and a training field.

What is wrong with Alfie Langer or Willie Carne trying to earn the type of money which is paid to Australia's top golfers and tennis players?

Brisbane winger Willie Carne.
Brisbane winger Willie Carne. ©NRL Photos

Fans the length and breadth of the eastern seaboard who are entertained by the Broncos every weekend don't seem to be complaining. And neither are opposing clubs who can just about guarantee a full house every time they have a home game against the premiers.

If one of the conditions on which the Broncos joined the competition has been breached, then the League has the right to launch an investigation.

But how serious is the breach? Does selling shares in your company to the public suggest poor business practice? And if it is a risky business practice, which seems to be implied, then why would Morgan want to become involved?

The wide perception in Brisbane is that Brisbane's move is not so much the problem ... rather that the Broncos directors dared to make a business decision without consulting big brother.

It is curious, also, that the NSWRL would send a gang of accountants into the offices of the competition's most successful organisation, when the two other clubs which joined with Brisbane - Newcastle and Gold Coast - are in financial strife.

Being a failure would seem to be more acceptable than being a success.

Another question which begs to be answered is why Broncos chief executive John Ribot was kicked off the League's premiership committee at the end of last year. Surely a bright young executive at the most successful club - and a former international to boot - would be an asset.

The fans are entitled to ask whether there is an underlying reason.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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