A fresh player has emerged in the race for a second NRL team in Brisbane, with a new business consortium testing the waters for support as it seeks to rival the Broncos in the code’s most fertile market.
Fairfax Media understands the group is canvassing potential backers and want to take on the existing bid of the Brisbane Bombers, which has been run by former heavyweight Brisbane backer Craig Davison.
A move to have a team west of Brisbane has also been firmly established, as has that for a team to be located in Central Queensland, thereby bridging the immense gap between the region’s south-east and the far north, which houses the Cowboys. A push to have a Brothers team installed in the NRL has also gained some support but it is thought to be a fringe candidate.
But it is Brisbane emerging as the key battleground for any expansion plans, with leading business figures in the Queensland capital convinced there will be a second team in the city for the 2018 season as the NRL enters a new television broadcast deal that will be much more lucrative than the last.
Club bosses have reportedly warned NRL boss Dave Smith about the financial pitfalls of any proposed expansion, given at least four teams remain reliant on money from head office in order to stay afloat. But Davison is among those that believe the NRL can’t afford not to expand into Brisbane, currently at the mercy of the table-topping Broncos, which remain the wealthiest club in the game and are surging once again under the guidance of Wayne Bennett.
Whether the NRL adds a second team in Brisbane has now become a $250 million question for rugby league, with that figure being suggested as what a Broncos rival would be worth to the code when it goes to the table at the end of the current $1 billion TV deal, which expires after the 2017 season.
The move has the strong support of Channel Nine, which has been desperate to have a game played out of Suncorp Stadium every week, while the prospect of any derby game at a sold-out, 52,000-seat venue only adds to the appeal.
Davison said he couldn’t guarantee it would be his Bombers getting the nod but said there was certain to be a new team in Brisbane within three years, regardless of what reshuffles there were with the rest of the current competition.
“I’m not sure what will happen with the rest of the competition, the number of teams, but there must be a second team in Brisbane. I’m not saying that is going to be us but the NRL can’t afford not to have another side in Brisbane,” Davison said.
Former South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson has been tasked with investigating the possibility of expansion and any bid teams will need to have their pitch on his desk by the end of the year. And with growing certainty about the prospect of a second Brisbane franchise, the Bombers may have more company as the bidding process begins to take flight.
The question for the NRL will be whether the region can sustain three NRL teams, given the Titans are already financially crippled and struggling to fill the seats of its home base at Robina.
But there has always been a major percentage of rugby league fans in Brisbane that don’t have any affiliation with the Broncos and would likely respond favourably to a new team in a city which now boasts a population of more than two million residents.