Five Queensland-based bid teams in NRL expansion race

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The sleeping NRL expansion giants of Queensland have been awoken.

NRL.com can reveal there are five bids from the Sunshine State set to throw their hat in the ring whenever the National Rugby League calls for expansion.

The Brisbane Bombers, Redcliffe Dolphins, Brothers, Western Corridor and Central Queensland bids are all ready and set to up the ante to be part of a possible 18-team competition.

Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie, set to be the next ARL Commission chairman, said expansion should be a top priority for the NRL in an interview with The Daily Telegraph earlier this week and his views have reignited the fire that still burns within the bellies of the respective bid teams.

Beattie plans to put expansion front and centre of his tenure and mentioned regional areas and rugby league heartlands like Redcliffe and Ipswich as possible locations.

ARLC chairman John Grant announced the NRL’s 2018-2022 broadcast deal in late 2015.

Based on a similar timeline the next deal may well be done and dusted by the end of 2020 so the prospective NRL bid teams based in Queensland are ramping up their preparations.

“I have been a big believer all along that you either grow or your die. If you stand still you go backwards and Peter Beattie obviously believes the same thing,” Central Queensland bid chairman Geoff Murphy said.

“Good on him for coming out and putting expansion back on the table. The CQ bid will be ready to go whenever we are called upon.”

Former NRL star Scott Sattler, who is a consultant to the Brisbane Bombers bid, was a key player in the formation of the Gold Coast Titans. 

“When Peter Beattie and [former Queensland Treasurer] Terry Mackenroth gave funding to the new stadium on the Gold Coast is when the Titans bid became a true reality to be quite honest,” Sattler said.

“Beattie understands what people want and has the courage of his convictions to get things done.

“But with expansion you can’t just expand for the sake of it or just to try and fire another shot across the bow at the AFL.

“You’ve just got to worry about your own game internally and ensuring that you expand into the right area which will embrace it and where the NRL will benefit from it financially and commercially.

“That is why south-east Queensland – from a supporters, commercial, junior development and engagement point of view – ticks all those boxes.”

Western Corridor bid chairman Steve Johnson agreed Queensland was getting short-changed.

“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 said.

“We have three clubs out of the 14 (in NSW, ACT and Queensland) and that means we are getting 20% of the money while supplying 45% of the players which means the mums and dads of Queensland have to work harder and give up more of their time for the game to maintain itself and that is just not fair.

“Social justice and commonsense dictates that there needs to be a third side in south-east Queensland.”

NRL.com has spoken to the five Queensland based NRL bid teams and provided a snapshot of their bids.

Brothers

The Brothers NRL bid is based on uniting an already connected fan base, not bound by geography, behind an established brand.

“We have a licensed agreement with the [Brothers] Confraternity, who are the IP holders of the Brothers brand, and our idea is to unite the vast Brothers fan base, talent pool, stakeholders and members through an elite pinnacle team,” Brothers NRL bid director Justin Barlow told NRL.com.

“We believe that a new team’s foundation should be based on a powerful, connected brand, which gives you an instant engaged fan base all over Australia.

Barlow said other bids were constrained by geographical boundaries.

“You tell me any other place where a kid who can play for the under 6s in Mackay and can have a direct pathway to the NRL and a connection to that team,” he said.

“There are over 40 functioning Brothers clubs in Australia throughout three states but we are going to be able to pick up other markets because there is Brothers rugby union, Brothers cricket and Brothers netball, so a very wide fan base.”

Big names of the NRL such as Cameron Smith (Logan Brothers), Billy Slater (Innisfail Brothers), Sam Thaiday (Townsville Brothers) and Wayne Bennett (Toowoomba and Brisbane Brothers) all played with Brothers clubs in their formative years.

The Brothers bid  has been referred to as the ‘Travelling Wilburys’ of the NRL bid teams, but Barlow said that was wide of the mark.

Expanding into a region where the fans want more makes sense, and that is what is exciting about it.

Scott Sattler

“We would be able to work with the NRL about where they needed us to be positioned,” he said.

“Then we could start working with our stakeholders to create that foundation.

“We have options for some inner city [Brisbane] land, that are obviously pending, where we could base our clubhouse. We have a connection in Ipswich and could base ourselves there with a training base and academy.”

Redcliffe Dolphins

The Redcliffe Dolphins bid has stayed in the background on the publicity front but is set to be in the foreground if expansion gets the green light.

With a winning history stretching back more than 70 years and financial stability which is the envy of NRL clubs, chairman Bob Jones said the club’s NRL bid was “ready to step up”.

The Dolphins have entered into long-term business arrangements that provide an income stream, outside of their powerful leagues club, that is unmatched in the Intrust Super Cup. In 2015 Redcliffe received a $4 million funding commitment from the federal government towards a $12 million, 10,000 seat stadium at Dolphin Oval, which would also be the training base for an NRL side.

“With our facilities to support a team I would have thought there was no-one that has got anything compares to what we already have,” Jones said.

“Our infrastructure is better than half of the clubs that are in the NRL now.

“The stadium on the main side [of the field] has been completed for a couple of seasons now and we are a bit over halfway through the other side of the field being completed.”

The Gold Coast Titans initially planned to call their club the Gold Coast Dolphins, a bid that failed when the Redcliffe club threatened legal action.

Redcliffe didn’t realise how powerful its brand was until the club then engaged a marketing team to research it. The results revealed a brand more widely known than the Queensland Bulls and Queensland Reds with only the Broncos and Brisbane Lions ahead of them.

Christian Hazard in action for the Redcliffe Dolphins against the Ipswich Jets.
Christian Hazard in action for the Redcliffe Dolphins against the Ipswich Jets.
©qrl.com.au

Central Queensland

In 2010 Central Queensland bid chairman Geoff Murphy took then NRL CEO David Gallop on a whirlwind tour, accompanied by several journalists, in his private jet.

The only person not exhausted by the end of it was Murphy himself, the energiser bunny owner of the multimillion-dollar company JM Kelly Group.

Murphy has outlined the strategic value of his bid in filling “the gap” in the NRL market on the Eastern Seaboard in heartland rugby league territory.

“We have a very strong argument for our bid and why it will work,” Murphy told NRL.com.

“The population of the CQ area has slightly more people than they have in Townsville and we are the heartland of rugby league.

“We’d play our games in Rockhampton but we would take games to Mackay and Bundaberg

“The State Government, starting with the Bligh Government and confirmed by current Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, promised me they would build me a stadium similar to that of the Titans on the Gold Coast when we got the team.”

Murphy said “when you look at the history of the game and the key people playing in the NRL at the moment, the CQ would be one of the biggest suppliers of players”.

Matt Scott, Jake Granville, Corey Oates and Ben Hunt are from the region.

Murphy has vast business contacts and had key sponsors in place when expansion was a red-hot topic and the game appeared to be on the cusp of moving to 18 teams.

He said those discussions would be revamped “now that expansion has become red hot again”.

Murphy did have preliminary discussions with the NRL about owning the Titans and has been linked to other relocated teams in the past.

 “I was very interested in the Titans but the reason I did not proceed was because there was a belief that the team should remain on the God Coast and remain as the Titans,” he said.

“I don’t think the NRL had any desire to sell a team that would be relocated. They made that loud and clear.

“And I didn’t really want to own a team that was based on the Gold Coast. I wanted something based in Central Queensland for the people here.”

 Western Corridor

“We’ve got to go where the fish are biting.”

That famous quote of former NRL CEO David Gallop’s back in 2009 when he visited Ipswich and put expansion firmly on the rugby league agenda set off a chain events that have led to the heartland league city being one of the favourites to get a new license. 

The Western Corridor bid model is based on community ownership and had lucrative commercial sponsorship agreements in place when it appeared expansion would proceed three years ago.

Bid chairman Steve Johnson, who is also the Ipswich Jets chairman, has presented the financial viability and strengths of his bid to TV bosses and NRL heavyweights on a regular basis for the good part of the past decade.

The Toowoomba-Logan-Ipswich region where the bid is based has been the conduit for the greatest players the game has seen, including Allan Langer, the Walters brothers and Cameron Smith.

A prospective team would play out of Suncorp Stadium and have its training base in the Western Corridor catchment area.

Johnson said the bid was essentially ready to go and had the advantage of working daily with an Intrust Super Cup side, the Ipswich Jets, which will come under its umbrella.

“When David Smith was in the (NRL CEO) seat he had the full financials and went through it and there were no concerns,” Johnson said.

“All we will have to do is modernise the financials.

“The good thing is being a community based bid like ourselves, and the same with Redcliffe, is that we have kept on working in the community and staying involved actively in rugby league.

“The game is not all about commerce. You can buy brains for commerce, but you can’t buy brains for rugby league, history, relationships and respect.

“You have to earn that, and the rugby league based bids have the right to claim that.”

The Ipswich-based bid is a grass roots bid and was set up to allow young rugby league players from the region to stay in their home towns and aspire to play NRL.

“We had concerns about the way the Western Corridor was being farmed [or players] with no compensation back for all the crops that were stolen from us,” Johnson said

“We’ve had to keep working harder at grass roots to keep planting the crops. The game has shown we are of value by the continual taking of our young men and now it is time the game gave us the respect back to allow proper care for our young men in their home environments.”

Brisbane Bombers

The Bombers have provided the razzmatazz to the NRL expansion race but former NRL star Scott Sattler said there was a real depth to the bid which would ensure its success.

Sattler, a key figure in the establishment of the Gold Coast Titans, has been assisting the bid as a consultant on football operations and development.

Sattler said the Bombers would quench the thirst of the south-east Queensland rugby league public for regular games in Brisbane and had done an outstanding job of selling their brand and commercial viability.

That included hosting an NRL trial between the Storm and Bulldogs at Suncorp Stadium in 2013.

“I thought that NRL trial was a really good way to expand your brand and it was good for rugby league, by bringing the game to Brisbane,” Sattler said.

“The investors and [bid boss] Nick Livermore speak about how robust the financial model is, but from a rugby league fan point of view I think south-east Queensland and the Scenic Rim also deserve a game every weekend in Brisbane as opposed to every possible fortnight.

“We need that cross-town rivalry in rugby league, which I think we have lost.

“We have identified that junior development is probably the key and engaging junior players so they stay in the state.

“Above all I think the most important thing the Bombers will bring is the ability to develop and build the brand of rugby league in south-east Queensland and the Scenic Rim.”

Sattler insists that a Bombers side in the NRL will enhance the Broncos and not detract from them.

“The Broncos have done a fantastic job ever since they were introduced into the competition, but I think they would benefit from another team in south-east Queensland because it would spike that cross-town rivalry, which I think they would enjoy from a marketing point of view,” he said.

“From a commercial point of view they might feel as though there is another team fighting for the dollar, but I think we all know there are enough multi-national corporations that can be enticed to support rugby league.

“I think they would enjoy that competition both on and off the field. They would embrace it because they have been so good at fighting against the elements ever since they have come into the competition.”

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