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For & Against: Should the NRL expand?

Perth has had a double helping of top-flight rugby league in the past 12 months with the hugely successful State of Origin clash at Optus Stadium in 2019 and the rebirth of the NRL Nines last week.

But are they ready for their own NRL team in the west? Or should the NRL look to a second team in rugby league heartland in Brisbane to take on the might of the Broncos?

Both areas have had teams previously and they folded so is it realistic to think that what didn't work in the 1990s can work in the 2020s?

Each week, two experts will debate the game's hottest topics in our For & Against series. This week it's the case for expansion.

For senior journalist Martin Lenehan

Way back in 1995, the ARL took a giant leap and added four teams - the Western Reds, South Queensland Crushers, Auckland Warriors and North Queensland Cowboys.

Some 25 years later and two have survived and thrived, two have perished, and debate continues to rage as to whether the NRL should spread its wings again and return to Perth or add a second team in Brisbane.

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Even if Perth is to be consigned to the "too far, too hard" basket, the granting of a licence to a second Brisbane team should be an absolute no-brainer.

For all but the three years of the Crushers' existence in the mid-90s, the Broncos have had the lucrative Brisbane market to themselves and it's time to share the love.

Share the game's finest stadium with another tenant and give Queensland's fanatical league fans a game at Suncorp every weekend.

Over the years we've seen compelling bids put forward by the Brisbane Bombers and the Western Corridor but the door remains closed.

That's despite NRL CEO Todd Greenberg telling Phil Gould on Channel Nine's 100% Footy a year ago: "I think there is huge ambition in rugby league. There is more upside in this sport than there is in other sports.

"Are we prepared to look at the geography, the footprint of the sport? Are we prepared, in the future, to look at some changes? If we are going to grow, we have to change. We have to play in more areas."

Whether those areas are Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide or the NSW Central Coast, the time has come for the NRL to think big so more fans can be introduced to our game and more kids can have an avenue into the big time.

The final word goes to Western Corridor bid chairman Steve Johnson, who speaks plenty of sense when it comes to an NRL side launching in league heartland in Ipswich.

"There are not enough teams here in Queensland to care for our young men and the split of money in rugby league is still inequitable," he told in 2018.

"Social justice and common sense dictates that there needs to be a third side in south-east Queensland."

Oh, for some common sense!

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Against senior reporter Margie McDonald

The bones of Western Reds, Adelaide Rams and South Queensland Crushers lying dormant, along with the dust collecting on the Brisbane Bombers logo means everyone needs to think twice about expansion.

Let's use a better word – rationalisation. That's what happened when 22 teams playing in two competitions in 1997 were reduced to 14 in 2000 as the ARL-Super League merged into the NRL.

That grew to 15 in 2002 with the welcome return of the figurative prodigal son in South Sydney, and then to 16 when the Gold Coast Titans joined in 2007. And that's quite enough.

There's your second "Brisbane" team, well south-east Queensland team, in the Titans.

Suncorp Stadium and Cbus Stadium are one exit off the same motorway – an hour apart by car, or less time than driving from Lottoland to Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.

If Justin Holbrook turns around the Titans' fortunes into finals footy, then the chorus of "Brisbane needs another team" will fade.

And as for those two groups saying (a) we need to expand into AFL country like Perth and Adelaide, or (b) we need to send a Sydney team north, I give you Exhibit A: the Brisbane Lions.

Up they came from Fitzroy to merge with the Brisbane Bears in 1996. And they have been super successful: a threepeat of AFL premierships (2001-2003) and a fourth grand final in a row in 2004.

But even during those heady days did they really make a dent in NRL country? Do you see more Lions jerseys than Broncos on the streets of Brisbane? 

Does anyone in Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth really care about the Lions? Does anyone in AFL-mad Melbourne really care about the Storm's fortunes apart from diehard or ex-pat league supporters?  

The point is rugby league can have a great international presence, when it has no true national competition, just look at rugby union. They've been doing it for years.

Expanding means draining the current 16 clubs. High-profile, big-name players and coaches need to be poached from existing club to start a new club.

The Roosters – the premiers - have lost just two centres (Latrell Mitchell to Rabbitohs, Billy Smith to injury) and they are trying to entice Josh Morris from the Sharks before a ball is kicked in 2020.

Read my lips: The NRL does not have the depth to expand and present a viable club.

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

Acknowledgement of Country

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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