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NRL expansion team could have Indigenous name

The Western Corridor NRL bid will be the first Australian sporting side to have an Indigenous name if admitted as the second Brisbane team.

With the future of the game having been secured by new broadcast deals with Nine and Fox Sports, the introduction of a second Brisbane team to rival the Broncos is again on the agenda.

Redcliffe Dolphins, Brisbane Bombers and Brisbane Firehawks (Easts Tigers) are vying for the 17th licence, along with Western Corridor, who have been linked with Sydney Roosters star Luke Keary and will play out of Suncorp Stadium.

The Ipswich-based bid, which also represents Toowoomba, Logan and other Queensland country areas, aims to honour and develop the strong links in the region between the game and Indigenous communities.

Talented Queensland junior Sam Walker.
Talented Queensland junior Sam Walker. ©NRL Photos

If successful, Western Corridor NRL bid chief Steve Johnson said respectful discussions would be held with representatives of the Jagera, Yuggera and Ugarapul People to help decide a name for the team.

"We're a black area and we are proud of that," said Johnson, who is also chairman of the Ipswich Jets.

"We determined from day one that we would be the first club in Australia to truly honour the contributions of Indigenous Australians to our game as part of reconciliation.

"While it is going to be up to the shareholders to come up with a name, there is going to be an Aboriginal element in the name."

Rugby League Immortal Arthur Beetson.
Rugby League Immortal Arthur Beetson. ©NRL Photos

Honouring Arthur Beetson

The Western Corridor NRL bid was launched by rugby league Immortal Arthur Beetson in 2010 and has the backing of another of the game's greatest Indigenous players, Johnathan Thurston.

The bid is associated with the Arthur Beetson Foundation to run academies for young Indigenous players in South-East Queensland, using Intrust Super Cup players as mentors.

Johnson said the aim was to expand the academies across Queensland.

"We intend to honour Arthur and his vision," Johnson said. "That means there will be an Indigenous element to our name, and we will definitely be proceeding with the Queensland Indigenous academies."

The Brisbane Broncos also support the bid, and it is expected that the Newcastle Knights would back it as the club has an official partnership with the Ipswich Jets to develop local talent.

There are more than 16,000 players in the area, exceeding the playing numbers in Brisbane, and that figure is forecast to grow in coming years.

"We have got one of the biggest bases in the country - if not the biggest - and come 2026 we are going to have 19,000 participants," Johnson said.

"If we have got an NRL club actively developing those players, as we will, then we will create more players for the game.

"That will mean more Anthony Milfords, more David Fifitas, more Luke Kearys and more Bradman Bests."

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The junior talent

At 28 years-of-age, Ipswich-born Keary is a potential marquee recruit for the Western Corridor team, while the Bombers have declared Cameron Munster as their No.1 target.

Sydney Roosters halfback Sam Walker - the 17-year-old son of Ben Walker, who co-coached Ipswich Jets to the 2015 Intrust Super Cup and State Championship with brother Shane – would be another Western Corridor target.

The Jets are currently coached by premiership-winning captain Keiron Lander, who helped create history as one of three Indigenous skippers -  along with Thurston (Cowboys) and Penrith's Brent Naden - to lead their team to grand final glory at ANZ Stadium in 2015.

Ipswich Mayor Terese Harding met last week with members of the Western Corridor bid team.

The council has committed $10 million towards the redevelopment of North Ipswich Reserve Stadium into a 20,000-seat venue if the bid was successful and is seeking State and Federal Government support.

"We are happy to play out of Suncorp Stadium until the State and Federal Government believe it is justifiable to put a new stadium out where there is going to be 700,000 people," Johnson said.

"That time will come but we are patient. We were the original bid so we have been waiting since 2009 for expansion.

"We have got a whole of game bid that we believe, by connecting 19,075 rugby league participants directly to an NRL club, will add to the game, will add to bums on seats at Suncorp, will add TV viewers and we will keep growing those participation numbers."

Roosters playmaker Luke Keary.
Roosters playmaker Luke Keary. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

The rival Queensland bid groups

Rival bids have been active in recent weeks, with Easts Tigers registering the name Brisbane Firehawks and announcing the team's colours would be gold, back and blue.

Easts chose the moniker to avoid a name clash with Wests Tigers.

Redcliffe plans to retain the iconic Dolphins name after taking legal action to prevent Gold Coast from using it before they entered the Telstra Premiership in 2007.

The franchise opted for the name Titans instead and had to destroy all Gold Coast Dolphins merchandise.

The Brisbane Bombers bid was launched in 2011 and have identified Munster as their No.1 target if they are given the greenlight to join the NRL.

Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster.
Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster. ©Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/NRL Photos

The Bombers are backed by a private consortium of wealthy investors and are the only bid not associated with an Intrust Super Cup team.

Redcliffe announced on Monday that they had entered a partnership with the Warriors to strengthen the playing stocks of both clubs.

The move follows the decision by the Warriors to withdraw from the NSWRL's Canterbury Cup competition, and the New Zealand club will now send players not required for NRL duty to the Dolphins.

There is also the opportunity for the Warriors to play matches at Dolphin Stadium, while the staff at the two clubs will work closely together to create better opportunities for personal development.