NRL reveals bombshell expansion plans, potential conference system

The NRL’s ambitious plans to take over the Australian sporting landscape knows no bounds, with league CEO Andrew Abdo flagging an 18-club competition that could be divided into conferences.

As league officials move quickly toward the introduction of a second Brisbane team in 2023an addition the Courier Mail has revealed will be worth $50 million to rugby league — Abdo has indicated it’s just a starting point.

Like the AFL did by quickly following the 2011 debut of its 17th club, the Gold Coast Suns, with the entrance of its 18th franchise the GWS Giants a year later, Abdo is already earmarking a destination to follow Brisbane.

He believes the New Zealand market is ripe for a second NRL club and that quickly returning the number of clubs to an even number will make for a dynamic fixture and the potential introduction of a conference system.

“If we can make the numbers stack up, it (a second Brisbane team) is pretty exciting and then that leads to us having an 18th team in another key market for us over time,” Abdo told the Courier Mail.

“If we were to have an 18th team, we would have to have a good hard look at a second New Zealand team.

“Eighteen teams is a lot more dynamic in terms of how you can configure the draw. It means another rivalry in another key market for us, wherever that might be. It means new fans. It means we could have conferences and pools. These are all good options to explore.”

Abdo and ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys are expected to begin meeting with Brisbane consortia in the coming weeks with the aim of providing clarity on expansion by the middle of the year.

The leading contenders to become the NRL’s 17th team are the Redcliffe Dolphins, who have lodged a Brisbane Dolphins trademark, the Brisbane Jets — a coalition of the Brisbane Bombers and Ipswich Jets — and the Easts Tigers-backed Brisbane Firehawks.

Queensland Origin hero Cameron Munster has already been flagged as a potential signing to be the face of the franchise.

“If another Brisbane team comes in, I won’t say no to going back home,” Munster told News Corp recently.

“I do see myself moving to Queensland after football and if a second Brisbane team comes in, I could go back earlier than expected.

“I wouldn’t say no to that (joining a second Brisbane team) … for sure.”

V’landys said the NRL would not expand to Brisbane if it thought the market would be crowded and existing Queensland teams the Broncos and Gold Coast Titans would be hurt by the move. But the most powerful man in rugby league is confident a new team will only be a positive addition.

“It’s very realistic to say that we’ll have a second team in Brisbane in 2023,” ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys told the Sydney Morning Herald last month. “From what I’ve seen and the presentations that have been given to me, they are well advanced.

“The one thing that I am impressed with is how advanced these bids are. They are not mucking around. They are serious. If we came to a decision in June this year, that would give them a year-and-a-half. It’s plenty of time. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen mid-this year.

“I’m not going to do it if it’s going to hurt the game. It’s got to benefit the game.”

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