High injury tolls at many NRL clubs this season may boost the argument for expansion of the Telstra Premiership, with 34 players having made their debut in the opening nine rounds.
While those opposed to the Telstra Premiership expanding in 2023 claim there isn't enough talent for two new teams, Briton Nikora, Thomas Flegler, Corey Allan, Dylan Brown, Corey Waddell, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Bronson Xerri are among the future stars to have emerged in the past two months.
In fact, the number of players blooded by clubs this season would make up two additional teams and more rookies are set to be given their chance in coming weeks due to injuries and representative duties.
Newcastle and North Queensland are the only clubs yet to have debuted a new player this season, while Canberra and Cronulla have already introduced more players to the NRL than they did in all of last year.
With up to 50 players sidelined by injury, the depth of some clubs has been sorely tested and it may have directly attributed to teams surrendering big leads in matches and inconsistent performances.
However, the introduction of so many fresh faces could also increase the number of NRL-quality players available to new clubs if expansion occurs in coming seasons.
Every try from Round 9
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has been asked to finalise a deep analysis on whether the competition should expand, and if so where to, by the end of the year to enable the ARL Commission to make a decision before negotiations for the next broadcast deal kick off.
A second Brisbane team is expected to be the preferred option for the NRL's next licence, followed by Perth, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea or another Queensland location.
Leading recruitment managers believe there is enough talent to sustain 18 teams, with one saying: "Water finds its own level".
Another told NRL.com that the size of the talent pool would increase once more players were exposed to the intensity of training and playing with a top squad.
In other words, build it and they will come.
In addition to the 34 newcomers handed debuts this year, there are 17 places across 11 clubs which need to be filled by the June 30 deadline for teams to finalise their 30-man rosters and most are expected to be taken by development players being promoted from within.
Unless a club decides to look to the future and approaches a big-name star to make a mid-season switch on a long-term contract, the main source of external talent for remaining roster spots is Queensland's Intrust Super Cup or NSW's Canterbury Cup competitions.
The 42-22 triumph by Queensland Residents in Sunday's interstate match against NSW at Dolphin Oval further strengthened the case for a second Brisbane team, which the NRL hopes would gain the support of the city's more than 300,000 identified fans who don't support the Broncos or Cowboys.
Of the 113 players at NRL clubs eligible to play State of Origin for the Maroons, only 53 play for the three current Queensland teams – the Broncos, Cowboys and Titans.
In comparison, 48 play for NSW-based clubs, while Melbourne boasts 11 Queensland-eligible players in their squad.
NRL players bring the Magic to the community
When the competition last introduced more than one new team, with the establishment of North Queensland, the South Queensland Crushers, the Auckland Warriors and the Western Reds in 1995, the clubs were given a two-year lead-in period to enable them to recruit players.
The four clubs were given no special dispensation or exemptions to sign players and had to operate under the same salary cap rules as their opponents.
Most focused on bringing star players "home", with Trevor Gillmeister returning from Penrith to lead the Crushers, Stephen Kearney moving from Wests to the Warriors and the Cowboys recruiting Illawarra captain Dean Schifilliti.
The Reds, who were coached by Peter Mulholland, lured the likes of Brad Mackay, Mark Geyer, Matthew Rodwell and Mick Potter west to Perth and prepared for their introduction by signing more than 60 players to play in the local competition.
Among them were promising youngsters Matt Geyer and Wayne Evans, who played in the Reds Under 21s team coached by John Dorahy.
The Perth-based team won 11 of their 22 matches in 1995 – including eight at the WACA, where they averaged crowds of 13,390 – to finish 11th, one place behind the Warriors, who won 13 games in their first season.
Re-establishing a club in Perth would be an attraction for more English players to join the NRL, with 17-hour non-stop flights between Perth and London having begun last year.
The England squad was based in Perth during the 2017 World Cup and the players joked with coach Wayne Bennett about establishing an NRL team to play in the NRL.
"We should get an English team in the NRL to play out of Perth," South Sydney prop Thomas Burgess told NRL.com during a recent interview.
"All the English boys would be keen, they loved it in Perth during the World Cup. We always used to joke with Wayne, saying 'Wayne, if we get a team in Perth you coach it and we'll play in the NRL'."
There are 10 English players in the NRL – Burgess and brothers Sam and George, Canberra's quartet of John Bateman, Josh Hodgson, Ryan Sutton and Elliott Whitehead, St George Illawarra's Gareth Widdop and James Graham, and Sydney Roosters winger Ryan Hall.
The Broncos also have 19-year-old English fullback Herbie Farnworth in their squad and he is tipped to join Flegler, Patrick Carrigan and Tom Dearden in debuting for the club this season.
Below are two teams made up of players who have made their NRL debuts so far this season:
Team A: Corey Allan (Rabbitohs); Ryan Papenhuyzen (Storm), Reuben Garrick (Sea Eagles), Marion Seve (Storm), Mikaele Ravalawa (Dragons); Chanel Harris-Tavita (Warriors), Tom Dearden (Broncos); Oliver Clark (Tigers), Sam Verills (Roosters), Thomas Flegler (Broncos), Corey Waddell (Sea Eagles), Josh Kerr (Dragons); Josh Curran (Roosters). Interchange: Patrick Carrigan (Broncos), Adam Keighran (Warriors), Hayze Perham (Warriors), Abbas Miski (Sea Eagles).
Team B: Will Kennedy (Sharks); Maika Sivo (Eels), Patrick Herbert (Warriors), Bronson Xerri (Sharks), Jayden Okunbor (Bulldogs); Dylan Brown (Eels), Lachlan Lam (Roosters); Corey Horsburgh (Raiders), Blayke Brailey (Sharks), Thomas Mikaele (Tigers), Briton Nikora (Sharks), Hudson Young (Raiders), Liam Martin (Panthers). Interchange: Rhys Kennedy (Rabbitohs), Jesse Arthars (Titans). Bailey Simonsson (Raiders), Ronaldo Mulitalo (Sharks).
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.