Dan Nicholls – December 10, 2014 As it does during every off-season, the question of expansion has once again been tabled. Yesterday it was revealed that the CEO of the Central QLD bid has been given assurance that they would, one day, be granted a licence to enter the competition. Earlier this week I commented, during an open letter to Todd Greenberg, that I believe expansion should be on the agenda, but we are not yet ready. I stand by my comment that the NRL talent pool is not yet able to support two new sides, perhaps even one, although in say three to five years, it will be. The emergence of talent coming through the Under 20s is incredible. In three to five years I have no doubt the competition would have produced another 20 or so NRL quality players . Right now however, the talent pool just isn’t there. The gap between the top sides and the bottom sides is far too pronounced to find another 34 first grade players to fill two run on sides, let alone two squads. For the record, I’d love to see two teams enter the competition in 2018. I’d be against one side coming in, it’d need to be two to avoid the dreaded bye round. Of course there are a mountain of obstacles to overcome, and the television deal would have to be altered to make room for another fixture, but assuming that could be worked out, I’d be all for new sides entering the comp. So, where would these two sides come from? There are plenty of opportunities, and I’d love to hear feedback on where you, if you support expansion of course, would like to see the sides come from. Perth Perhaps the most attractive option for the NRL as it would allow a specialised, later time slot for television coverage. The fact Perth are two hours behind the East coast for the majority of the season means there could be a live 9:30 time slot every second week on a Saturday night, or a live Sunday afternoon game. It’d also offer the chance for Monday afternoon footy. The Western Reds attracted a huge crowd for their opening fixture, however ultimately the team was forced to fold. With the mining boom, a fair number of those based on the East coast have made their way across to the West and remain in WA. That coupled with the continued growth of rugby league, should ensure increased interest in any potential WA based side. Travel costs would be high, although I wouldn’t imagine it’d be too much higher than those incurred by clubs travelling to play the Cowboys in Townsville. Perth is a massive market and the sporting crowds are there, as shown by the huge crowds attracted for both the Dockers and Eagles in AFL. I have little doubt a new NRL side could survive and perhaps even thrive if based in Perth. The NRL would have to exercise patience as it would be a slow build, as it’s an AFL crazy town. Central Coast There are plenty of lapsed former Bears fans on the central coast that would surely return to the game should their side be re-entered into the competition. I remember the days of David Farleigh’s rampaging runs at North Sydney oval. I would love to see the red and black back in the NRL. There weren’t too many fans happy when the Bears and Manly were merged, and even less after the club folded and Manly survived, while the Bears folded. There’s no doubt there is a huge potential market on the central coast, who have for years demanded their own side, rather than accepting Manly, or other sides who play games occasionally in the area. The stadium is there, the fans are there, but is it simply too close to Sydney to fully capitalise? Travel would be easy for the majority of sides, as it’s only a bus trip from Sydney or Newcastle . There are plenty of positives in a possible bid from the Central Coast, however it’s likely the NRL will be looking to capture a new market rather than re-enter an existing one Central Queensland The area covered between Brisbane and Townsville is massive. Although there aren’t cities the size of the capitals in the area, there are plenty of potential fans to capture. Likely to be based out of a brand new stadium in Rockhampton, there’s a huge opportunity to draw in fans from hours north and south of the base. A fourth QLD side would be great for television also as well as creating another “derby” of sorts with the other QLD sides, especially the Cowboys. It’s probably not a matter of it, but when, a central QLD side enters the competition. The amount of potential interest in the side if massive, while many kids in the surrounding hundreds of kilometres would be drawn to the sport, rather than AFL or cricket. Central NSW There’s a possibility that a side playing out of Coffs Harbour or Port Macquarie could be established, although I would not consider it the strongest candidate. Once again, a massive untapped area in terms of both land size, and population, is there for the taking. A brand new stadium could be built and a brand new brand launched. There are hundreds of kms between Newcastle and the Gold Coast , meaning there is a huge potential for creating new fans. I wouldn’t put money on a central NSW bid, but it’s a definite option to bridge the gap between Newcastle and the holiday strip. New Zealand A second New Zealand side has great merit, especially if based in Wellington. The country’s win in the recent Four Nations tournament has helped to boost interest in the game, which to be fair is still a long way behind Rugby in terms of attention. A Wellington based side would provide a monster clash with the Warriors , as well as an early television time slot if Foxsports wanted the 12 noon kick off on a Sunday, or an early Saturday game. There is a massive potential to attract new players to the game in the country, and the second side would provide a home based avenue for players to enter into the NRL. The amount of NZ or pacific island born players in the juniors is incredible. I’d love to see them given a better chance of staying closer to home, while chasing their NRL dream. Brisbane Dave Smith has referred to Brisbane as rugby league heartland, and the Broncos supporter base is massive, mainly due to a lack of competition in the area. There would be plenty of fans willing to back a newly created side, and I’d dare say a few would come over from the rah rah or the rugby if a second side was entered. That being said, it’d be a small market geographically and I think the NRL is after a bigger fish so to speak. The market is Brisbane is already well and truly NRL territory, and a second side might saturate rather than expand it. PNG There was once plenty of talk about a PNG based side entering the competition. The QLD Cup PNG side has been a success in terms of players progressing to NRL level, as well as fans supporting the Kumuls. Rugby League is the national game in PNG, and there is no doubt the region would embrace an NRL side. The travel costs would be a huge obstacle for most sides, and a PNG side would have to travel every second week, meaning it would likely need financial assistance. There are plenty of positives here, but it would be unlikely to say the least. Verdict I think it comes down to two sides entering from Perth, central QLD, or Wellington. I think Perth and Central QLD shade it. There are too many positives and almost zero downside in either, while Wellington would always be behind the eight ball in terms of competing with the rugby. Read more: http://www.zerotackle.com/nrl/is-the-time-right-for-expansion-if-so-where-16023/#ixzz3M6hslhOB [hr] Any time is a good time to expand, according to Zorba.