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The 2020 season launch.

With the entry of a 17th team a matter of when - and not if - the question of depth of playing talent is quick to arise.

Are there enough good players now to fill out another roster? And, if there aren't, how does the game go about developing the many bright prospects out there into NRL-ready players. Let the debate begin.

For reporter Chris Kennedy

I'm not going to sit here and try to argue there is enough talent across the current 16 clubs' top-30 rosters that you could extract enough to set up a competitive 17th club tomorrow without weakening what we have.

Clearly that is not the case when you look at the current disparity between the haves and the have-nots, or at the usual mid-season Origin downturn when clubs are sometimes asked to compete without as many as seven or eight of their best players.

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But is there enough talent for a 17th NRL club when taking a longer-term view? Absolutely there is. We just have to develop it.

Look at the improvement in the PNG Hunters since they were admitted to the Intrust Super Cup and what that could and should mean moving forward in terms of harnessing the boundless ability in league-obsessed Papua New Guinea.

Just this year the Kaiviti Silktails started on a similar path to bring Fijian talent into the NSWRL.

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Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has ruined what was to be their first year in the Ron Massey Cup and may delay their graduation to higher tiers of the NSWRL but any league fan knows of the boundless talent a relatively small number of Fijian players has already brought to the NRL.

Even in more developed markets like New Zealand and Tonga, talented teens need to be incentivised to give league a go over union. Look at what Eliesa Katoa has done after barely a dozen competitive games of league.

Even in Australia, there is an active league competition in Western Australia that could be better harnessed to provide NRL talent.

If we properly flesh out all those development pathways it could start paying dividends in less than five years with the teenagers that are already on the right path, let alone in 10-plus years. We're at least a few years away from having the logistics of an extra club up and running anyway.

In expansion terms, if you take most of a roster's worth of current fringe players with plus a dozen or so seasoned first graders (at a cost of less than one per existing club) with some promising development channels plus a good coach and a new club could be a finals force within a decade.

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Against senior journalist Martin Lenehan

With injuries taking a heavy toll on clubs and stretching their depth to the limit, it's impossible to argue there's enough playing depth should another side be added to the competition.

It’s also clear from the abysmal form of the Broncos, Titans, Dragons and Bulldogs that our talent is already spread thin enough and a 17th club simply isn't sustainable right now.

There's a real danger that the second half of the season will see a huge gulf between the sides placed 1-10 on the ladder at the moment and the remaining six, with the Cowboys and Warriors fighting to keep in touch with the eight and clear of the aforementioned stragglers.

To survive the rigours of an NRL season under the new rules, every club needs a squad of 30 players capable of holding their own at the elite level.

Right now, there's at least six clubs falling short of that benchmark, so to even contemplate a 17th team would be ill-advised.

Too many kids are being thrown to the wolves before they are ready and too many older players are hanging on past their "use by" date.

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With under-23s and reserve grade consigned to history, talented youngsters are forced into the NRL before they are ready and veterans who are sadly out of form have nowhere to go to try and rediscover form and confidence.

The flow-on effect is more lopsided contests, more coaches feeling the heat and more fans feeling disgruntled as their teams struggle.

Rather than spreading the talent even thinner, it's time to consolidate and to a 14-team competition where teams play each other twice during the regular season, thus removing the inequities in the draw.

That's one less game a week for broadcasters but quality over quantity has to be the goal.

And it would require some tough conversations around mergers but we've been down that path before and made it work with Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra Dragons, who took just six years and 12 years respectively to deliver premierships to their fans.

Sure, the introduction of a second team in Brisbane has merit, but if a new franchise was to be granted entry then 30 more NRL-quality players need to be found.

Plenty of current players would jump at the chance to blaze that trail but they then have to be replaced at the club they departed.

It's an impossible juggling act.


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

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